Apr 30, 2010

Future of the Royal Navy: THE DAY BEFORE : or toward the end of hypocrisy ?

My 1st editorial

With British general elections looming, a 2010 Strategic Defence Review (1st major since 1998), a 6-36 £ billion “black-hole” in the defense budget for the next decade (and 848 £ billions total public debt for the United-Kingdom), the next 8 coming months will be decisive for the future (2011-2030) of the Royal-Navy. Obviously, predicting the future accurately is impossible, but here is my 2 extreme scenarios for the main programs of the Royal Navy :

At the best case or at the worst case
Aircraft Carrier (1 or 0):
The program of 2 future UK aircraft-carriers is now estimated (ships only, without airwing) at about 5,2 £ billion, among this, 674£ million is a increase due to short term budgetary savings, which resulted in delays and cost overruns, nearly 10% of the current estimated total cost for the carriers !!!. Don’t forget that in 2008, estimations for the two ships were +/- 4 £ billion….
The HMS Queen Elizabeth, now funded at more than 65% and in advanced construction, will be built and commissioned end 2015/early 2016 (with an expected +/- 35/40 years service life, he should be retired around 2050). When you see the degree of work progress on the HMS Queen Elizabeth (the Royal Navy, to save the ship, was quick to accelerated purchases, but gradually (multiple small/medium purchases/orders, with the objective to reach a final large sum that make the ship too expensive to cancel), not to draw opposition from the Treasury. We can reasonably assume that politicians will probably try to finish the ship (to give work to shipyards for 3-4 more years and partially limit unemployment). At the “mid-worst” case, this ships might be sold to the Indians for final completion (Indians who plan to have an 60 000tons aircraft-carrier around 2018…), or, at the “extreme-worst case” (but unlikely), will be cancelled and scrapped on slipway, a tremendous budgetary and political folly !
In any case, the HMS Prince of Wales, actually not yet seriously started (keel to be laid-down in 2011), will most likely be canceled. The future government in trying to save money by eliminating, at the minimum, one of the vessels (& with their expensive Airwing), despite the contracts penalties. Cancellation/sale of this 2 ships represent indoubtedly a very hard blow for the Royal-Navy, and also would cause the natural cancellation of the british F-35B, and reduction in escort/replenishment ships need, but will update (and reduce drastically) the size of the british fleet towards the real power of the future Great-Britain.

Naval Airwing (25/50 or 0 F-35B):
Around 8-9 £ billion were allocated for the purchase of the british F-35B. The 150 F-35 originally planned (to replace ageing Harriers) were quickly down to 138 and now +/- officially 70/80. But with a F-35 at 150/200 million $ per copy, at best, will be about 40/50 aircraft (or more likely 25/35), received towards 2016/2021 (with an expected 25/30 years service life, they should be retired around 2040/2050). In fact, in case of a finally secured building of the HMS Queen Elizabeth, a small production buy of F-35B’s seems inevitable eventually in order to avoid the considerable embarrassment of building expensive new strike-carriers without any no strike-aircraft. But, in the worst case, if both carrier to be cancelled/sale, this cause the natural cancellation of the F-35B, again despite possible penalties.

Naval aviation (ASW/AEW/SAR helicopters; ASW aircraft):
- EH-101 : commissioned 1997-2002, +/- 44 maintained at the best, to be retired from service around 2035. At the worst, maybe a reduction to +/- 35/40, to reduce operational cost.
- Sea-King ASaC.7 AEW replacement, great question...maybe a AEW Merlin, at the best around 2018 ??? (very urgent replacement by 2018, because this represents an act of faith in the longevity of airframes which in some cases are already over 40 years old, some helicopters have seen on board fathers pilots, son and even grandchildren pilots !). At the worst, maybe not to be replaced if CVF cancelled???
- Future-Lynx : 60 originally planned early 2000's, now 28 + 5 option…commissioned 2011-2015, to be retired from service around 2040/2045. At the worst, the 5 in option cancelled
- Now 21 Nimrod-MR2 retired from service and replaced by a maximum of 11 Future Nimrod-MR4 (9 production aircraft + 2 test aircraft), commissioned 2012-2015, to be retired from service around 2045. At the worst, only 9 aircraft (the remainder 2 test aircraft not to be incorporate in “service”.)

AAW Destroyers (6 or maybe 4/5):
6 “Type 45 Daring” destroyers, commissioned 2010/2013, to be retired around 2038/2045. At the best, all 6 maintained. At the worst, only 4/5, because without a aircraft-carriers to protect, 6 high-tech vessels is a too high figure. So maybe 1/2 vessels sold (at a Gulf countries?)

ASW Frigates (12 or 6/8):
In fact, in the case of future Type 26 frigates, their numbers will be determined by the number of big units (Aircraft-Carrier/SSBN) they will protect/cover. But is now clear that the currently 17 ASW frigates (4 “Type 22 Batch 3”; 13 “type 23”) will be replaced by “Type 26” frigates in fewer numbers, at best 12 “Type 26 C1/C2”, commissioned around 2019/2028, to be retired around 2050/2058. At the worst (if any need to protect aircraft-carriers/SSBN), only 6/8 “types 26 Frigate C1/C2”.

Mines-Hunters/Patrol-Boats (12/16 or 08/12):
The Mines-Hunters (8/9 Sandown, 8/9 Hunt) & the 3 patrol-boats (3 "Rivers", recent, 2004-2006) will most likely to be replaced (but not 1 for 1 basis) by a modular light-frigate/heavy-corvette (2000t range) of C3 category (a lighter version of “type 26 family”). With big budget reduction, Tentatively +/- 20 olders ships to be replaced by, at the best, +/- 12/16 “C3 ships” commissioned around 2019-2028, to be retired around 2045/2055. Or, at the worst, only +/- 8/12 ships.

Hydrographic Vessels (3 or 0 ?):
- HMS “Roebuck” 1986, decommissioned 2010, to be sold to Bangladesh navy or others foreign navy ?
- HMS “Gleaner”, 1983, to be decommissioned without replacement 2013/2015 (a immediate target for the next budget cut ?)
- HMS “Scott”, 1997, to be replaced around 2027, very likely not to be replaced directly (1 for 1 basis), but indirectly by a C3 corvette
- 2 “type Enterprise”, 2002, to be replaced around 2030, maybe indirectly by a C3 corvette
- HMS “endurance” : Probably damaged beyond repair, likely to not to be replaced (30-50 £ million cost for repair ?)

Others small (12 or 10?):
16 coastal patrol/training boat of “P2000” type, maybe replaced during the 2020’s by a 10 or 12 new small craft.

SSN Submarines (7 or 5/6):
At best, 7 “Astute”, commissioned 2010-2022, to be replaced around 2040/2050. At the worst, only 5/6, 6th maybe finally cancelled after some doubts & 7th rapidly cancelled

SSBN (3 or 0):
With a SSBN (X) program estimated at least 20/25 £billion (some ecologist/political groups claimed a cost of 100 £billion over the entire service life of the programs (ie. 40 years, subs + warheads + missiles + shore-facilities + operational cost)). At best, the better future will be 3 SSBNX (commissioned 2024-2030) to replace the 4 “Vanguard” SSBN (despite the criticism on “3 ships could not provide a constant presence at sea”). The design chosen will most likely be a bigger boosted “Astute” design, to avoid the extremely expensive development of a new design, and with a central missile compartment identical to the Future US SSBN(x)s (actually the British cooperating with the United States on this project), with 16 missiles per boat. For the nuclear warheads, with likely reductions in nuclear arsenals (ie. future treaties…), the British might be from 3 (actually) to 2 or even 1 warhead per missile : Now 3x16x4 = 192 nuclear warheads. Maybe around 2030, at the minimum: 1x16x3 = 48 or at the maximum : 2x16x3 = 96. Or at the worst, future SSBN(X) will be cancelled and deterrence will be transferred to nuclear cruise-missiles (2 dozen ???, the U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles with a nuclear warhead is very unlikely because the missile can no longer produces. The solution could be using a modified/improved Storm-Shadow cruise missile) aboard on the Astute SSN type (3-4 missiles per submarine). This solution, very drastic, would nearly destroy the British deterrent capability, but maintain some nuclear capacity, would allow MONUMENTAL budget savings (to be redistributed elsewhere) and would have the political advantage (or?inconvenience?) of putting the United-kingdom in the 1st world-rank of actions-reductions of nuclear weapons in the world.

Amphibious (+/- 6)
- 1 LPH “Ocean”, retired around 2018, very likely to be not replaced by a new LHD & maybe , at the best, “partially/indirectly” replaced by the CVF HMS Queen Elizabeth. At the worst, entirely not replaced.
- 2 LPD “Albion”, very recent, 2004/2005, to be retired around 2035.
- 4 Light LPD “Bay”, very recent, 2005/2007, to be retired around 2035.
With this Amphibious force realy recent, the Royal-Navy has reached a level of amphibious capability not seen since WW2, then this is intended badly marred by a lack of carrier based air cover & events troops to embark. For this necessitated the use of 6/7 large amphibious ships may not not be felt (despite the fact that currently, the amphibious ships are “trendy”). The Royal-Navy has had to become inventive use in its of Its recent amphibious units to justify keeping them in operational service, rather than reduced up in readiness level or events worse things (ie. some rumors about the possibilities in 2005-2007 to place 1 newly Albion LPD in extended readiness…)

British replenishment tanker/RFA tanker/auxiliary (7-8 or 6)
Futur British RFA (Auxiliary ships) will depends heavily on the future of the 2 aircrafts-carriers because they will need large tankers, if the aircraft-carriers had all cancelled/reduced, future tankers will be smaller/fewer. In fact, it becomes clear that if 2 aircraft-carriers are finally built, then their need 6 new tanker for them and their escorts (to replace 6 ageing “Leaf, Rover, Box Class’s”). If only 1 aircraft-carrier is built, then 4/5 tanker suffice. But if the 2 CVF were cancelled, while 4 tanker will be sufficient for the needs of a smaller British fleet……with a possible “Pandora’s box”……the privatization of the RFA……
There will be very probably 2 options for future british tankers (the stillborn MARS program, maybe in the near futur can be restarted or privatized or definitively canceled…)
- Buy a Multi-Purpose-Vessels (Dutch “Joint-Support-Ship” style modular AOE/LPD replenishment/amphibious ships), but a much more expensive solution “in buying term”).
- Buy (or leased) converted civilian oil-tanker or built single-purpose military tanker ships, less flexible, but less costly (except, in long term, for the “lease” solution).

- 2 Fast-Fleet-Tanker "Wave serie’s" (recent, 2002, 31000t), to be replaced around 2030
- The 2 Support-Tankers "Leaf serie’s" (ageing, 1982, 40000t); The 2 Small-Fleet-Tanker “Rover serie’s” (ageing, 1974, 11000t); And the 4 Fleet-Replenishement “Box serie’s” (ageing, 1979-1993, 23-31000t), to be replaced around 2012/2020, probably along the path and the uncertainties of the future british aircraft-carrier program…
- HMS “Argus” (1988, nearly ageing, 28000t), to be retired around 2020, very likely without “direct” replacement.
- HMS “Digilence” (1981, ageing, 11000t), very strategic repair-ship, to be replaced around 2015/2020…maybe by a replenishment ships if the standard tanker design was of a JSS modular type, or, at the worse, not to be replaced.

It may be that in my opinion, I forgot programs? (or made few mistakes ?), then said it! Feel free to comment and give your opinion !

In all cases, it is clear that
- Severe cuts in the Royal Navy seems inevitable, around 10-20% (at the best...)
- The United-Kingdom can no longer afford now two 60000 tons aircraft carriers (with their Airwing), 4 SSBN and the fleet that goes with it (escorts, auxiliary’s)..... The reality is most likely a mix (it mainly causes the hypocrisy of politicians who make electoral/lobbying choices).

I sadly prophesize that if British politicians go ahead with 2 aircraft-carriers and SSBNs (at least 3), the financial impact of these projects will have a dramatic impact on all British armed forces.

In brief At the best
- 1 aircraft carrier (and 25/50 F-35B)
- 44 EH 101, 33 Future Lynx, a hanfull of AEW Merlin, 11 Nimrod MR4
- 6 AAW destroyers
- 12 ASW Frigates
- 12/16 modular 2000 t range corvette/light frigate
- 2/3 Hydrographic Vessels
- 12 Small Crafts (training/patrol boat)
- 7 SSN Astute
- 3 SSBN (X)
- 6 Amphibious
- 7/8 RFA Auxiliary’s

At the worst
- 35/40 EH 101, 28 Future Lynx, 9 Nimrod MR4
- 4 to 6 AAW destroyers
- 6 to 8 ASW frigates
- 8 to 12 modular 2000 t range corvette/light frigate
- 10 Small Crafts (training/patrol boat)
- 5 SSN Astute
- 6 Amphibious
- 4 to 6 RFA Auxiliary’s

Wait 6/9 months for the “DAY AFTER”...


  1. Give me some time,this is a long post but I think as all posts on here a little bit biased.
    The Royal Navy is at its weakest since 1805,that should mean something to you but don't get too excited just yet.
    In the first instance please do not assume to advise the British on how to build aircraft carriers.
    Anyone with a bit of knowledge knows that the 'Charles De Gaul' is to put it 'Merde'.
    Having to approach to Brits for the plans for the CVF only confirms the inability of the French to properly design and build a viable carrier.
    The biggest thing holding back co-operation on design and build between Britain and France is the overblown sense of French pride and National importance. Get over yourselves and work for the common good.

  2. Very good and hope you continue these editorials! Think the loss of HMS Ocean replacement would be tragic. Even with your worse case scenario, the RN would still have the makings of an effective Cadre navy, along with numerous off the shelf warships like patrol craft to remain one of the world's most effective. The SSN's alone is a capability not to be taken lightly by a hostile force.

  3. Nice article but you appear to have missed MOD press statements about helicopter fleets. Currently only some 28 Merlin are scheduled to be updated to HM2 standard (4 of the original 44 HM1 have been lost in accidents I believe). The 28 Merlins flow by the RAF are to be transferred to the Navy to replace over 40 Sea King HC4 "junglies" as the new Chinooks enter service with the RAF. This will mean the RN is the sole service with Merlin variants. It has also been rumored (or the MOD press release has been interpreted) that 8 of the 28 HM2's would be used as AEW & C aircraft to replace the Sea King ASaC Mk7's.

    So your best / worst figures are a little off base for the FAA :-(

  4. My friends, sorry for my very bad English...

    Wouahouh, I am very surprised and pleased reactions!

    @ Anonymous
    In this editorial, my goal is not to laugh of the Royal Navy or English. My goal is to give my opinion on current projects. I did not want to give lessons!. Simply, when have seen the extreme weakness of the royal navy, the bad interest of politicians for the Royal Navy and the situations of the united kingdom .... we must be realistic but it is only !!!... I think ... I fully respect yours!!

    @ Mike Burleson
    Thank you for your support (I read your blog every day !!!!!!). We hope that our opinions and passions we enrich both

    @ gpcawthorne
    Really Thanks for the details (I do not know!, Men do not know everything...)
    Your comments allow me to know even much more of the royal navy programs ! really thank you !

    Best Regard my Friends !
    Mike Colombaro

  5. Your best case scenarios are actually worst case or even worse than that!

    QE class, once cancellation costs are taken into account it's actually cheaper to build the carriers!! alot of the hull sections have already been constructed for QE and hull sections for PoW are being built as we speak by the time the defence review is commissioned next year both will be beyond cancellation... the delays are pathetic, QE could be commissioned by 2014 if the will was there and PoW in 2015/6 (a little off the 2012 and 2015 original dates to say the least but better than 2016 and 2018 and could save a couple of hundred million quid!

    It's hard to say how many STOVL Lightnings the UK will get 138 is still best case scenario

    8 Astute is best case, 6 is worst case (it might not even be possible to build 8 before Vanguard needs replacing so best case might even be 7)

    AAW Destroyer/T45... best case is 6, worst case is 6... the point where the government could add to the order without disrupting things was about 12 months ago

    ASW Frigates 6-10 Personally I think we're looking at 8...

    GP Frigates 8-10 (c.2)

    Nimrod is 12/9 not 11/9 and it's an RAF asset

    only 30 Merlins are being upgraded to mk.2 standard

    SeaKing Mk.7 ASaC is being replaced by ex-RAF Merlin Mk.3 HC with the kit out of the SeaKings

    Amphibs 7/8 (7 is a 99% chance)

    C.3 ISN'T a corvette/light frigate

    SSBN is 3/4 the only political party that wants rid of them are the ones that have no chance of getting into power.

    Nothing has happened with regards to MARS for ages so it's hard to say what's going to happen to the RFA

  6. @"Requiem"

    - If one or two aircraft carriers are built, the Royal Navy will absolutely have new larger tanker, and it quickly! (by 2014/2018...)

    - For F-35, it is now impossible that the british buy 138 (the plane is too expensive !!!). Even the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps (which have much higher budgets).... doubt.

    - For Type 45 destroyers and frigates Type 26, the final number may be debated

    - For the Astute, the 8th is unofficialy canceled since +/-2 years !, And the 7th is in serious doubt. The 6th will probably be built towards the end of the 2010's decade

    - For amphibians, only 6 (2 albion, 4 bay). There are currently no official plans to replace the ocean by a new LHD (which must be retired by 2018)

    - For Nimrod, there has 9 production aircraft. For the 3 test aircraft, recently (February/March), the MOD announced that only two of its three test aircraft would be put into service

  7. as far as I am aware Oceans planned retierment date has been put back until 2022. To Be honnest i cant understand why this cant be put back further. Th ship was only commissioned in 2000. While she was built under commercial lines with a small budget surley and extensive over hall in the middle part of this decade using Ark Royal As a temp replacment is the cheapest most desirable option for the RN. Thing have not progressed much since Ocean was laid down and If I was replacing her it would be with a near perfect replica. Other navys including the US seem to operate ships for 30,40 or 50 years. Why does the RN need to replace every 20 years.

    The sam is true for the SSBN's. The Ohio's will have a service life of 40 years. Why is Vanguard 25. While I realise that the Ohios had an extensive mid life upgrade surley this can be done with Vanguard. The only argument against this seems to be that it might not be possible well one is in dry dock to maintain permanent at sea detterent. While this may be the chance the russians have been waiting for to Nuke western Europe it seems that the savings from not having to replace a perfectly good systment are hudge. The main argument seems to be that if we dont build the new tridents after astute 6 or 7 we will loose our SSN capability. Why not use some of the money saved to build more astutes maybe as many as 10 or 12. Extending VAnguard up to 2030-2040 will also allow us to better cordinate with the US. Who knows Trident E6 might not even fit the tubes of the new SsBN (x) then where will we be.