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”...