Stealth cut my foot: RFA Diligence’s case

Reporting and criticising former and current government actions regarding military capability is 99.9% of the duty of “defence experts” and bloggers including yours truly. However, identifying what is a real defence cut and what is a secret, not publicly listed defence cut is more often than not, what some trigger happy “defence experts” state.

In this case, I’m talking about the advertisement (more than a sale) of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s only (and thus Her Majesty’s Naval Service only) mobile forward repair ship, RFA Diligence. On 4 August 2016, the advert was was placed up on the Ministry’s of Defence’s MOD surplus equipment for sale site. However, since the MOD has connected all its sites to the web system, it thus appeared on the MOD’s own announcement page. In simple terms, the MOD is as transparent as can be regarding the sale. Yes, there was no news release and thus no immediate “mainstream media” articles about the sale although Forces TV and IHS Janes both wrote article’s about the sale around a week later.

So to the “defence experts” Gabriele and SavetheRoyalNavy, it is NOT a “Stealth cut” no matter how you try to represent it to your ultra-right wing readers or might band of followers. In fact, to you two and others, the bemoaning shouldn’t even start yet since officially, it is NOT SOLD YET and the above two advertisements are what they are, advertisements! Those who are interested in PURCHASING the vessel have a time limit, no LATER THAN “17.00hrs (GMT) Monday 26th September 2016.” So officially, the vessel is still in the MOD’s/Disposal Services Authority’s (DSA) possession. Yes, it will definitely not sail again but it is still there. The moaning, crying and (dirty) finger-pointing is however overrated. I repeat: The MOD has been as transparent as it can be regarding the sale, and technically it is not sold yet. So to you two and others, stop your dirty cursing. If you want to talk about non-transparency, try criticising the militaries of say Cambodia or Egypt, which are listed as least transparent regarding defence, especially arms sales.

So in a pre-“Trident Debate” mode let me say…

1) The whole debate is about replacing the ballistic missile submarines (officially the SSBNs). Not the Trident D5 missiles (whose name is incorrectly used to describe the whole system), not the nuclear warheads, which are the ones which cause the devastation. Read this House of Commons research report. Another simple to read document is this one, yet another MOD publication

2) No one and no organisation (including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the Scottish National Party (SNP), the anti-“Trident” Labour Party members including Jeremy Corbyn) have come up with a sensible idea what to do if the vote falls against the motion. No one has said how to properly scrap the not-even-completed-Successor-class submarines, how to quickly retrain specialised skilled workers, what to do with the Royal Navy submariners destined for these submarines, the support personnel, the civilians who support these personnel, their families. Then what to do with HMND Clyde which is prepared or is preparing to house these submarines.

3) People forget (and in relation to point 1)) that even if the vote doesn’t go in favour, it does not mean the UK’s nuclear weapons are gone. With the vote just about replacing the SSBNs, the missiles (yeah of course they are American-made but British-leased) will still be there. The nuclear warheads will still be there. Again, in relation to point 2, no one has created an idea how to dismantle all of them safely and quickly without thinking about the astronomical cost. At the most, the Yanks (heh) will take back the missiles, AWE will have to prove they can dismantle the warheads (such cost still paid by the British (not just Scottish) taxpayer) and their whole company.

4) A removal of the submarines and then maybe the whole infrastructure (which the vote again is not about) WILL NOT reduce global nuclear weapons or create a spark for nuclear weapons reduction. The response will likely be: US (and France) will increase their warheads or delivery systems to match the loss of the UK’s nuclear deterrent. Or Russia and China may also join the “replace the short fall” race. Or regional, non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear powers would increase their stockpile.

5) With the lack of any current feasible anti-ballistic missile defence (BMD) system, a total removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent would be the UK has no option should there be a nuclear threat (however so unlikely) or WMD or non-WMD missiles launched at British territories or interests. Of course, using a nuclear response to a non-nuclear attack has always been ruled out by British governments. However, the total removal of its deterrent means the door will be really open for threats. Can diplomacy and conventional forces subdue the threats?

6) The UK is a puny nuclear deterrent nation. The US has its triad (Bombers, ICBMs and SSBNs with SLBMs and tactical nuclear weapons–eek!), the French has two modes of delivery (SSBNs and via fighters (Rafales) launched by land or via their single aircraft carrier). The Russians have a less updated (maybe) triad which is being modernised. China (PRC) has some sort of triad. And then there are regional nuclear powers as mentioned in point 4. So a removal will mean a removal of the puniest nuclear weapons state.

7) The issue therefore is not about the Successor-class submarines or system of delivery but about reducing what is the real WMD–the warheads. At around 120 operationally available warheads and a stockpile of around 225 warheads, it is argued by pro-“Trident” pundits that is enough or not enough. I say there can be a slow phased reduction but simultaneously, there must be harder or more efforts placed on multilateral non-nuclear proliferation. The UK is right to maintain a minimum deterrent but not correct is being arrogant about it.

8) As the information charts say, this nuclear deterrent has never been set out to deter conventional, state or non-state based threats including terrorism. Yes, each terrorist or non-nuclear attack every day makes it hard to believe that the UK needs a deterrent. I bet the submariners, no some of them, are thinking, what the hell am I doing when London was attacked on 7 July 2005, or the latest Nice attacks. Or what’s happening in Syria. But again, don’t shut down all your electrical goods because you want to save energy. That’s too extreme….

9) Continuous-at-sea-deterrent (CASD) does play another crucial role besides (attempting) to deter nuclear threats from state powers. It helps train submariners, from the chef to the captain, on submarine-based procedures. It’s not your holiday cruise but a military activity where crew members do get their “Dolphins”. Removing their vessels or boats means less ability to train them.

10) Back to point 2. What’s going to replace the SSBNs? There’s no such thing as money immediately going back to the government’s “bank” because you still need to spend it on dismantling the submarines and their infrastructure (as I pointed out), and probably more billions in safely removed the whole system. By then, would you expect government to say, hey, here are savings for the NHS and non-military means? Or military stuff?

Comments on the “UK nuclear deterrence factsheet”

My comments on this pretty well written factsheet produced by the British Ministry of Defence. (Comments are in dark blue).

UK and nuclear disarmament

  • as a responsible nuclear weapon state and party to the Treaty on the Non Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the UK also remains committed to the long term goal of a world without nuclear weapons
  • we have reduced our own nuclear forces by over half from their Cold War peak in the late 1970s (This is debatable. Yes, the UK has reduced its nuclear stockpile but so have others. What really counts wht effect this had internationally each time the stockpile was reduced)
  • we are the only nuclear weapon State recognised under the NPT which has reduced its deterrent capability to a single nuclear weapon system; We have dismantled our maritime tactical nuclear capability and the RAF’s WE177 free fall bombs (Same argument as above.)
  • as a result of our reassessment of the minimum necessary requirements for credible deterrence, since 2010 we have:
    • reduced the number of warheads onboard each submarine from 48 to 40
    • reduced our requirement for operationally available warheads from fewer than 160 to no more than 120
    • reduced the number of operational missiles on each submarine to not more than 8
    • by the mid-2020s, we will reduce the overall nuclear weapon stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, meeting the commitments set out in the 2010 Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) (Yes again, what is the effect on other stockpiles in nuclear weapon states.)
  • of the recognised ‘nuclear weapons states’ (NWS), we possess only approximately 1% of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons, the smallest of all the NPT nuclear weapon states (That is great but again, has that have or had any effect internationally?)
  • our submarines on patrol are at several days’ notice to fire and, since 1994, we do not target our missiles at any state (Yay, but in the very unlikely case of possible nuclear conflict, how fast can you re-target?)
  • the UK plays a leading role on disarmament verification with the US and Norway (Expand please?)

An independent deterrent

  • since 1969, the Royal Navy has delivered the nuclear deterrent under Operation Relentless, with at least 1 of 4 nuclear armed submarines on patrol at all times (Great to know this, but how does this really deter and what effect does it have or not have on conventional forces, especially with 4×2 crews)
  • our retention of an independent centre of nuclear decision making makes clear to any adversary that the costs of an attack on UK vital interests will outweigh any benefits (Got to convince the wider public that it is really independent since you are the only P5 nation to use the missile or delivery weapon not build by yourself.)
  • decision making and use of the system remains entirely sovereign to the UK; only the Prime Minister can authorise the launch of nuclear weapons, which ensures that political control is maintained at all times
  • the instruction to fire would be transmitted to the submarine using only UK codes and UK equipment; all the command and control procedures are fully independent (But unlike the US or even Russia, you don’t have a Permission Active Link (PAL) or well known two-man rule. How do we know that submarine commanders or people of high authority won’t abuse this system?)
  • Vanguard and Successor submarines can operate readily without the Global Positioning by Satellite (GPS) system and the Trident D5 missile does not use GPS at all (Got to make this known to the public)
  • our procurement relationship with the US regarding the Trident Missile does not compromise the operational independence of our nuclear deterrent

A minimum and credible deterrent

  • we are committed to maintaining the minimum amount of destructive power needed to deter any aggressor. This requires us to ensure that our deterrent is not vulnerable to pre-emptive action by potential adversaries (But how about implementing a no-first use policy like China? Otherwise it still seems like the UK is threatening other states, despite the assurance of no usage against non-nuclear weapons states.)
  • we require a fleet of 4 submarines to maintain 1 continuously on patrol and retaining this posture is essential to assure the invulnerability of the deterrent (Why? Explain. And explain why 2 crews per SSBN?)
  • our preference is for an invulnerable and undetectable system, which allows us to maintain it at a minimum level of scale and readiness, but we believe that it should also be capable of being held at high readiness for extended periods of time
  • invulnerability and security of capability are key components of the credibility of our deterrent and contribute to overall stability (Nothing is really invulnerable. Even stealth aircraft have been detected and shot down.)


  • the Trident Alternatives Review in 2013 demonstrated that no alternative system is as capable as the current Trident based deterrent, or as cost effective (Or was this too general a review?)
  • as set in the 2015 SDSR we estimate that 4 new Successor submarines will cost £31 billion to build, test and commission, spread over 35 years, with a contingency of £10 billion. On average, that amounts to 0.2% per year of government spending (Yes, but is this figure fixed even with inflation and changes in GDP?)
  • we expect that, once the new fleet of deterrent submarines come into service, the in-service costs of the UK’s nuclear deterrent will be similar to those of today, at around 6% of the defence budget (Again, what ratio will this be to UK conventional forces?)
  • UK and US nuclear defence cooperation is underpinned by the recently renewed 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement and the 1963 Polaris Sales Agreement; among other things, these allow the UK to reduce costs by procuring Trident missiles and other components from the US while maintaining full operational independence (Convinces me but is vague and won’t convince the man in the street.)
  • any programme to develop and manufacture a new cruise missile would cost far more than retaining the Trident D5 missile; in terms of both cost and capability, retaining the Trident D5 missile is by far the best approach (You wonder why the French have a nuclear-tipped cruise missile and the US is developing one.)


  • it is a key responsibility of government to be sure that the UK is properly protected should the future turn out to be less secure than we hope (But how likely is the threat of a nuclear war, with or without a nuclear deterrent? Should there be a threat, should the UK response by “nuking” others back?)
  • in spite of the successes of arms control activities in slowing the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the number of states with nuclear capabilities has continued to grow (And is this the constant excuse to retain the deterrent? Why not try hard in bilateral and multilateral nuclear arms reduction agreements?)
  • there are risks that, over the next 20 to 50 years, a major direct nuclear threat to the UK or our NATO Allies might re-emerge; a state’s intent in relation to the use or threat of use of existing capabilities could change relatively quickly: for example, there was little prior warning of the collapse of the Soviet Union (Right again, is the threat of a nuclear war or explosion best to be replied by a similar or larger nuclear retaliation?)
  • when the case for the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent was last presented to Parliament, by the Labour government in 2006-07, it was acknowledged that the old certainties of the Cold War were gone. It was recognised that the UK faced a growing number of diverse and complex threats in an unpredictable world (You were lucky there weren’t many SNP MPs then.)
  • similar key judgements were made in the recent National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence Review. There is a risk that states with nuclear weapons, or those seeking to acquire them, might use their nuclear capabilities to threaten the UK, and attempt to constrain our decision making in a crisis or sponsor nuclear terrorism
  • therefore the government is committed to maintaining the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, now and in the future (And for eternity?)
  • we know that international terrorists are trying to acquire radiological weapons. There are risks that they may try to aquire nuclear weapons; while our nuclear deterrent is not designed to deter non-state actors, it should influence the decision making of any state that might consider transferring nuclear weapons or nuclear technology to terrorists (So in the horrible event a terrorist nukes UK territory, what can the UK’s SLBMs do in response?)

Myths and discussion points

Myth 1. The nuclear deterrent is obsolete as it does not deter terrorism.

The nuclear deterrent wasn’t intended to deter terrorists. The UK has policies and capabilities to deal with the wide range of threats we currently face or might face in the future. Our nuclear deterrent is there to deter the most extreme threats to our national security and way of life, which cannot be done by other means. (Yes I’ve heard that before. Trouble is, how intense is the focus on the deterrent vs the focus on anti-terrorism? Is is possible that more reduction in warheads or even the boats could displace more money for conventional arms?)

Myth 2. The money spent maintaining a nuclear deterrent would otherwise be invested in our conventional capabilities.

Nuclear weapons remain a necessary element of the capability we need to deter threats from others possessing nuclear weapons. Conventional forces cannot deliver the same deterrent effect. The investment required to maintain our deterrent will not come at the expense of the conventional capabilities our armed forces need. (Yes, but again if you are nuked, is is right to nuke the other country back? Think about negative externalities.)

Myth 3. Submarines could become vulnerable to new technological developments such as underwater drones or cyber attack.

We believe it is unlikely there will be any radical technological breakthrough which might diminish the current advantages of the submarine over potential anti-submarine systems. In any event, we judge that a submarine will remain by far the least vulnerable of all the platform options.(Water didn’t stop the Titanic from sinking. Water sunk the Titanic. Or in other words, don’t be so cock-sure.)

Myth 4. Replacing Trident is illegal.

Maintaining a minimum nuclear deterrent is fully consistent with all our international legal obligations, including those under the NPT. (Lucky for the NPT to be vague.)

Discussion point 1. The UK does not require a nuclear deterrent as we are already protected by the US nuclear deterrent.

A potential adversary might miscalculate the degree of US commitment to the defence and security of Europe. An independent deterrent provides the assurance that it can be used to deter attacks on our vital interests. An independent centre of nuclear decision making in the UK also reinforces the overall deterrent effect of allied nuclear forces and thus enhances our security and that of NATO allies. (Wait till Donald Trump or a Trump-like President gets into power…)

Discussion point 2. All the UK needs is a dormant nuclear weapons capability, from which we could re-establish a deterrent if and when specific threats emerge.

Any UK decision to give up an active credible nuclear deterrent system would, for political and cost reasons, be extremely difficult to reverse. In practice, the timeframe for re-establishing a credible minimum deterrent would probably be longer than the likely warning of any change in intent of an established nuclear power or any covert programme elsewhere to develop nuclear weapons. Also, any move from a dormant programme towards an active one could be seen as escalatory, and thus potentially destabilising, in a crisis. (Re last sentence, how would it be “escalatory”, that is, how would adversaries know you are re-arming?)

Discussion point 3. We don’t need a continuous deterrent.

If we ceased continuous deterrent patrols, we could be deterred or prevented from deploying an SSBN in a crisis. The submarine is by far the least vulnerable of the platform options.

Discussion point 4. We could make do with an aircraft delivered system.

Short and medium range aircraft operating from the UK or overseas, or short or medium range land based missiles, do not provide an assured deterrent on the grounds that these options lack sufficient range. Even aircraft launched from aircraft carriers would not meet our range criteria. Furthermore, these options would be vulnerable to pre-emptive attacks, or to interception by air defence systems whilst in the air.

Doing more with less or rather higher quality

This post by the pretty famous aviation-centred geek Foxtrot Jalopnik takes a critical view of a graphic presented Contemporary Issues and Geography. The picture as show below shows a graphic or rather ORBAT of almost all or all the UK’s active military aircraft, combat, combat air support and even training.

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

UK military aircraft Feb 2016

(All rights go to

Foxtrot Jalopnik (henceforth FJ) goes on to say:

The Royal Air Force, Fleet Air Arm and the Army Air Corps have shrunk dramatically over the last decade, but the recent Strategic Defense and Security Review has ordered the UK begin to reinvest heavily into its air arms…Of particular note in this case is just how small the UK’s front-line fighter force is…Even the Army Air Corps helicopter transport fleet looks particularly small…

It does however end on a positive note:

This graphic will dramatically change once again in the coming decade as the F-35 is introduced into the Fleet Air Arm and RAF inventory, as well as other aircraft such as the P-8 Poseidon. Still, its unlikely that the UK’s air combat end-strength will ever look anything like it once did as recently as 2003 invasion of Iraq. Then again, the same can be said for America’s air combat aircraft inventory.

If FJ’s post could be said to be critical, the commentators below are far more acerbic. Sxay91 bring up the common swipe that previous (Labour) governments have destroyed the UK military. Buzz Killington is even more biased, using the “usual” line hat the UK (and European nations) have to spend more on welfare (than the Us, which by the way, has some sort of welfare system in certain areas) and now has to tend to (Muslim) refugees. JohnDiz cites his (possible) own experience saying that UK Special Forces needed UK rotary and aviation support (damn the Special Relationship?), FSBCyberPropagandaDivision calls the UK’s future carriers “useless” (not exactly about UK aviation) the list goes on and on. To sum up, These commentators who I guess are mostly American or Brits who want to jump on the bangwagon, agree the UK military aviation is shrinking, lousy, useless (insert your own negative adjective here).

Ok, fine, it is a small force. It’s smaller than it was during World War Two (where by the UK did get US help through the Lend-Lease Act and the wider Commonwealth), it’s a smaller force since immediate post-World War Two, it’s a small aerial force since the Falklands, Gulf War One, Operation Telic. But ok, since FJ brings up the 2003 invasion. Back then, the UK just did have the Tornado Gr4 and the classic Harrier, but it did not have the high accurate Brimstone missile. It ha only the Tornado ADV, the air defence fighter which was definitely less agile and deadly as the Eurofighter Typhoon or its USAF counterparts. In 2003, the Nimrod was was certainly in the ORBAT and in more than one squadron, but not that it was really need for anti-submarine warfare (ASW). The Harrier version in Op Telic was the GR7, not the GR9. There was at best one Army Air Corps (AAC) Regiment there, but not the famous Apache. The UK used its old Lynx AH7 and Gazelle AH1s in the initially campaign. As for Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm (FAA) assets, Op Tellic saw the ageing Sea King, not the Merlin helicopter.

The bottom line is, in 2003 Iraq War (or previous campaigns), the UK did have a numerically larger force of aviation assets and a larger variety. What it did not have back with those numerical quantity was quality. Today, even with a smaller FAA, AAC, and Royal Air Force, it has far better equipment and weaponry. The UK has Apaches (and soon to be upgraded AH-64s), Merlin HM2 and later HM4s, Lynx Wildcats, Eurofighter Tranche 1/2 and later versions, as well as other support and ISTAR aircraft. One most common touted weapon by politicians and the media is the Brimstone missile, used in Op Ellamy and the present Syria/Iraq campaign, Op Shader. Everyone wishes for a larger force and FJ did mention that the US aviation force is smaller than it was in Gulf War One and Two. Power doesn’t just come through quantity alone. Ok fine, quantity does matter, but as I’ve quickly shown, it matters at best with high quality.

It’s a good ideal world to have large quantities of forces, aerial, maritime or land-based. But that’s an ideal world. For now, a good quality force helps more than just a larger quantity.

The dummies guide to the UK’s nuclear deterrent aka “Trident”

In this post, I present the A-Z guide for the UK’s nuclear deterrent, colloquially and erroneously called “Trident”.

A is for Atom. The Atom and the splitting on the atom is needed for two vital parts: First, to create the nuclear reaction for the reactor plant of the SSBN (the ballistic missile submarine that carries the missiles which carry the warheads) and second, the nuclear reaction that occurs in order to classify the warheads (and missiles) as nuclear-related weapons or if you like, weapons of mass destruction. A is also for Atomic Weapons Establishment, the facility in Aldermaston where UK nuclear warheads are built.

B is for Boat. A Submarine is a submarine, but the sailors and military people, call it a “boat”, NOT a ship. This is a common mistake in fiction novels and movies.

C is for Continuous-at-sea-Deterrence (CASD). CASD is not unique to the UK; The US, France Russia (to some degree) and now China, and India and possibly Pakistan (but not yet for North Korea) maintain SSBNs that patrol 24/7/365. The major difference between the UK and others is that only ONE, yes, ONE SSBN is on patrol 24/7/365. The three others are on training, maintenance or ready to deploy. This is because there are at maximum FOUR UK SSBNs and only four to maintain the “minimum credible deterrent.” C is also for Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), the full anti-nuclear weapons, anti-war, anti-military movement.

D is for Disarmament. The UK supposedly maintains its SSBNs but works to create multilateral disarmament. There have been a range of global nuclear disarmament talks such as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty(ies) (which the UK was not a partner of) and recently, the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons (not that such a topic is needed–everyone should know what a nuclear–fission or fusion–explosion would do). “Multilateral Disarmament” is just one means of reducing nuclear weapon stockpiles; there is unilateral disarmament, which some politicians advocate.

E is for Project E, a previous UK-US agreement to provide RAF bombers with nuclear weapons. One of the first UK-US nuclear agreements. Google it.

F is for the Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent White Paper, published in 2006. It was one of the first post-Cold War UK government papers to advocate retaining an independent nuclear deterrent through to the 21st Century.

G is for the Guidance System
. I’m not exactly sure if the UK version is the same as the US version which uses an “astro-inertial guidance” system. Does this mean the UK’s nuclear deterrent is 100% independent of the US and others? See “I”.

H is for Operation Hurricane, the very first UK atom bomb test.

I is for Independence. The UK is the only P5 member of the United Nations Security Council not to have its own delivery system. The Trident II (D5) UGM-133A missiles are American-made and shared through a “joint pool” with the US. The warheads (see W and A) are UK-built. With the missiles US-made, many claim the US “controls” the UK’s nuclear deterrent and a UK Prime Minister is unable to even set the launch without a US Presidential approval. Opponents say no, due to I, the UK has control over its missile launches. See this old FOIA release for how the UK’s weapons are independent.

J is for I guess, Justification for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent.

K is for Kiloton, the measurement in which some nuclear yields (see Y) is measured. The best public evidence on how large the tonnage for UK-built warheads in at least 100 kilotons.

L is for Legality. It is one of the major arguments for and against the UK having nuclear weapons or a nuclear deterrent. L is also for the Letters of Last Resort, the dreaded letter a British Prime Minister has to write when entering office. It tells the SSBN commander what to do if the UK has been nuked and Command and Control is limited or lost.

M is for the Ministry of Defence, where the full super Top Secret nuclear deterrence and launch scenarios are held. M is also for Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), which is what nuclear deterrence is (if you hold that view.)

N is for the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which allows the UK to be a nuclear weapon state and this may be considered as legality for the UK to have a nuclear deterrent. It also may cause question about the UK’s status and role, since it called for nuclear disarmament. N is also for Northwood where CTF 345 personnel will receive the order from the PM (and his team, UK doesn’t officially say if it has a two-man rule at that level) for strategic missile launch.

O is for Operational Control, again related to Independence. As stated in the FOIA states, UK and US and French nuclear weapons are assigned for NATO security. This was supposedly stopped after 1992 (see this evidence and this/a>).

P is for Polaris, the missile that came become Trident. Polaris is, as with Trident, erroneously referred to the whole UK nuclear deterrent. IT IS NOT. P is also for PINDAR, The top secret bunker beneath Whitehall where the Prime Minister and the Chief of the Defence Staff would hide in during a nuclear crisis or attack and where they would issue the order for a UK strategic missile launch. Official name: Defence Crisis Management Centre (DCMC).

Q is for (yes) the Queen. Supposedly, according to Lord Guthrie, the Prime Minister of the day isn’t the final part of the fail-safe mechanism for nuclear missile launch. The Queen is the ultimate head of the armed forces and could stop a made PM from launching a nuclear missile or starting nuclear war.

R is for ROF Cardiff, a former nuclear weapons site. R is also for the Resolution-class submarine, which carried the Polaris missiles (see P).

S is for the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, which pledged to reduce the UK nuclear force to “ewer than 160 to no more than 120” warheads. (See page 38 of the 2010 SDSR). This was officially met on 20 January 2015. “All Vanguard Class SSBNs on continuous at-sea deterrent patrol now carry 40 nuclear warheads and no more than eight operational missiles”. S is also for Submariner, the personnel who man the SSBNs and who may lose their jobs if the whole system is scrapped.

T is for, of course, Trident. This as I stated, is the missile, NOT The entire nuclear deterrent!!! You can read about the whole missile here.

U is for Ulysses, an UK nuclear warhead. U is also for the 1958 US–UK Mutual Defence Agreement.

V is for Vanguard, the class of SSBN submarine which carries the Trident D5 missiles which carry the UK-made nuclear warheads. V is also for the V-Bomber force, which once carried nuclear gravity bombs.

W is for Warhead. As stated in K (kilton), the warhead is the main part of the whole system that delivers the thermonuclear explosion. The Submarine does not, the Trident missile just guides the warhead to the target. W is also for the WE.177 nuclear gravity bomb, which the UK had until it was removed it 1992 (Royal Navy depth charge) and 1998 (Royal Air Force). This removal is often hailed by politicians as the UK’s major unilateral disarmament, which no other nuclear power followed suit. Therefore, the UK still retained the submarine-launch nuclear deterrent.

X is for Weapon X, “an emergency capability ‘stop-gap’ laydown weapon intended to enable the Vulcan bomber force to operate at low-level for a few years, until the Royal Navy Polaris SLBM force became operational at the end of the 1960s.”

Y is for Yield, the nuclear yield.

Z is for Zodiac Mk3, another UK bomb.

NSS and SDSR 2015: My review of the military context

The National Security Review and Strategic Defence and Security Review 2015 has been published, rather late in the day but nevertheless published. One immediate difference from the 2010 reviews is that both the National Security Strategy (NSS) and the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) are combined together. That makes a big difference, but I’ll deal with the strategy part in a later post. First, the military (which forms the defence part):

The Royal Navy:

* Senior service in the NSS and SDSR 2015 stays almost as expected.
* Major ships in surface fleet stay at the small number of 19. But only eight/8 x Type 26 Global combat Ships will be ordered, the anti-submarine variant with Sonar 2087. Five more will appear later, but possibly more with a revised version for “General Purposes”. As many point out, this goes back to the original C1 and C2 variants. Would we thus get more than thirteen/13 type 26 frigates? What exactly will this GP variant be like? Will it have Mk41 Vertical Launch Silos (VLS)? Or are they copying my old idea?
* The graphic shows “up to 6 Patrol Vessels”. Batch 2 River-Class Frigates for sure, plus HMS Clyde, plus the two more that the document (page 31) that will be ordered. I suspect these two/2 additional vessels will also be Batch 2 River-Class? So goodbye to the Batch 1 Offshoere Patrol Vessels (OPV). All seems really good–These can help patrol the Caribbean to some extent and release Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) vessels for other more pressing commitments. It well, also means the Scottish workers have more secured jobs for a while. Lucky them.
* No mention of other patrol vessels, especial the Gibraltar Squadron. Will there be any change?
* Only twelve/12 Mine-counter measure vessels are specified in the graphic, down from the fifteen/15 the Royal Navy has at present. No mention if these are the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) future variant, though they are likely to be. That’s ok but only if they can extend their reach to the present commitments–the MENA area–or possibly elsewhere.
* Goodbye HMS Ocean. No mention in the graphic or elsewhere. Instead, “We will enhance a Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier to support this amphibious capability.” That, as I and many others point out, is not a practical use of the QEC but well has to be.
* The LPDs and LSDs will stay, ok.
* No mention of the Point-Class Ro-Ros, but they will likely stay.
* No mention of the Merlin HM4/Mk4 variants, oh wait, they put that under the Army graphic. Typo or just saying it’s Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) controlled?
* Royal Marines with Arctic capability. Well, not exactly new; they have operated in Norway for a long time.
* Six/6 Fleet Tankers. Is this four/4 Tide-Class tankers plus the two/2 Wave-Class fuel and support tankers/support ships? Will the Wave-Class ships be replaced in the distant future? Ok, not a worry.
* Three/3 Fleet Solid Support Ships. At present it is RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Rosalie and RFA Fort Austin. Will Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin be replaced by newer Solid Support Ships, again built in South Korea?
* No mention of a replacement for RFA Argus and RFA Diligence. So sad though you did say it it was to be considered. Liar.
* Likely or most likely no change in the number of Merlin HM2/MK2 ASW/ASAC helicopters. Which you know, means a tight Tailored Air Group (TAG). Boo…
*Type 45s may be part of a future Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD).
* Not forgetting the Queen-Elizabeth Class Carriers. Still no confirmation how they will operate, especially with HMS Ocean going away. The TAG is questionable even with the 138 F-35B order which will arise only in the distant future. There are still questions regarding the order. For example, this report says “It means the UK will have 24 F35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft available on its two new aircraft carriers by 2023.” Does that mean 24 on one operational carrier or 24×2 = 48 on both carriers? Let’s take it as 24 on HMS Queen Elizabeth. What about the 138-24 others (besides OCU and OEU?) As Justin Bronk points out, could they be the A version?
* Of course, Successor-class, that is the SSBNs will be procured. The submarines that cannot do anything.

British Army:

* The Army 2020 model is no more; it is Army 2025. Instead of the austerity-linked but nice plan by General Sir Nicholas Carter (see this), the Army 2025 plan alters the Reaction and Adaptable Forces. Now there will be two/2 x Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades, down from 3 from the original plan and a change from the typical division size. Wait, two/2 “Strike Brigades” that that could quickly deploy anywhere with independent logistical footprint.
* Strike Brigades?! They want to draw in the 589 Ajax (SCOUT SV) Brigades to form these brigades. But Ajax was to be for the original 3 AI brigades, not playing with a new fantasy fleet concept. What will these Strike Brigades consist of? Say one of the existing AIs and one brigade from the Adaptable Force (AF), maybe 7th Infantry Brigade. What else besides Ajax? Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (MIV) formerly UV, formerly FRES UV. Ok. But what else? How on earth are they independent in terms of logistics? And if you need to deploy a division, will the Strike Brigade (single) become a AI?
* A further question: What happens to the third Challenger 2 Armour regiment with these Strike Brigades? Will the disband/stay in suspended animation or will they be re-organised into the two other AI brigades? Good that Challenger 2 LEP will continue but well tank’s gun is outdated.
* Warrior CSP will continue–will all the six/6 Armoured Infantry battalions get the CTA 40mm gun?
* Upgraded helicopters–expected, nothing new.
* “Two innovative brigades comprising a mix of Regulars and specialist capabilities from the Reserves able to contribute to our strategic communications, tackle hybrid warfare and deliver better battlefield intelligence.” From the AF brigades? What will these be? MRV-P centred?
* 16 Air Assault Brigade stays but any change?
* Field Hospitals stay in the Joint Force (Command). See below.
* No mention of the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV).
* No mention of upgrades or replacement for the Defender planes or Gazelle.
* No core mention of MIV and MRV-P and other key projects that will replace soon to OSD assets.
* Of course, the magical 77th Brigade will remain as a soft-power enabler.
* Hey look, Commander Land Forces is now Commander Field Army. Great priority change.

The Royal Air Force

* It gains the most as it did in the 2010 SDSR. Junior Service wins.
* 20 “Protector” RPAS, basically MQ-9 Repear upgraded. Not new, announced before.
* Nine/9 PBoeing P-8 Poseidon, the expensive US MPA, to be based at RAF Lossiemouth. The usual cheers around, and it shows how incorrect Mark Hookham is. But 1) They wont appear instantly; 2) RAF and the Royal Navy have no air-launched Harpoons left so they can’t conduct ASuW 3) UK Stingray torpedoes and MK 11 depth charges need to be integrated onboard. Its “overland surveillance capability” is questionable.
* Amazingly, Sentinel R1, the formerly to-be-scrapped aircraft, will stay on “into the next decade”. Possibly they will help the P-8s or act as interim aircraft until the P-8s reach Full Operational Capability (FOC).
* They “el-cheapo: Shadow R1 will stay on until 2030. Really not bad for a propeller plane that could be taken up be Defender (theoretically). And the UK will get two more of them, bringing the total to eight.
* Sentry E-3 and the Rivet Joint (not Air Seeker!!!) stay on till 2035. Any upgrades darling?
* Hey, you didn’t want to keep the C-130s before. Hey! You are keeping 14 of the J models. Plus still aiming for 22 A400Ms plus just only 8 C-17ERs. Suddenly there’s the money to keep the C-130s? Ok, the Special Forces are really happy. More on that later…
* Along with the P-8s and keeping of Sentinel R1, you get this new drone that “will fly at the very edge of the earth’s atmosphere and allow us to observe our adversaries for weeks on end”. As Beth Stevenson points out, it is likely to be the “Airbus Defence & Space Zephyr high-altitude pseudo-satellite”.
* T1 Typhoons to form additional 2 x Squadrons, but only around 12 planes each, down from the 13-15 as seen in FOIAs like this. It is yet to be seen where they will be based given that RAF Lossiemouth will be choked full of planes.
* F-35s as above. But with the great projected order, isn’t it time to given all light blues and all dark blues to Squadrons and dark blue FAA Squadrons?
* Voyager Fleet: You get Cameron Fore One or PM Force One. Save money, give prestige it works out well. But please UK, don’t abuse it.
* The Future UCAV research project with France will continue. Yay..

Joint Forces (Command):

* Special Forces will get the most high-tech equipment. But with a shrunken active force, you would (still) struggle to get enough people to operate this. More later…
* Will you even have enough reserve special forces personnel?
* Joint Force Command, particularly, PJHQ, will get more stars (my FOIA). With a shrunken force, don’t try a top-heavy leadership. Won’t sound out well with the lower ranks.
* Space Operations Centre–a mouthful. For non-military means as well?
* How much effort will be place on cyber, since it is a Tier One threat?

Larger questions:

* So much of the SDSR and NSS is on equipment. How about personnel shortfalls? Getting women and minorities into the armed forces is only one bit to gain strength. You won’t get enough personnel for these major high tech assets–the carriers, the surface ships, the submarines, the F-35s, the additional Typhoons, the Army units etc. Personnel shortages hasn’t but must be addressed.
* When will the new equipment and assets be ready?
* Buying Yank stuff. Do you have a plan if prices increase?
* Will you really spend 2% of GDP on Defence and ho much contingency money is there?
* Any plans to increase, not alter, the personnel size? Or will you make cuts to unit strengths? No use claiming to have a division-sized force when the companies or battalions are under-sized.
* Will the joint model between departments (not JFC), ie. DFID, FCO, improve?
* How much change will there be for this Joint Force 2025 between now and 2020?

Next up, reviewing the Strategy…

PS: Did I miss anything out?

What you will likely and may not get from SDSR 2015

I never like rumours or hearsay but I guess it’s not harm jumping on the pre-Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) 2015 bandwagon.

What will likely be mentioned (in terms of Strategy and Security):


* Government will mean 2% of Gross National Product/Income (GDP/GDNI) of spending on defence.
* Budget (for maybe just equipment) will rise to rise in real terms – 0.5% above inflation – every year during the Parliament (as stated previously in the July 2015 Budget statement )
* NATO will be the core alliance the UK will work with for eternity (or for the super long term), not the European Union (EU)
* Government will also mean the (oudated) Official Development Assistance aka foreign aid target of 0.7% of GDP.
* Focus will be on core areas such as the Middle East (Daesh/ISIS/ISIL), Africa (North and Central)
* Falklands Garrison will stay with no immediate change
* US will be the main strategic ally
* Lancaster House treaty will continue
* Focus will be on value for money–efficiency savings as MOD budget is not ringfenced–but value for strong output
*Linking to above, people such as the Reserves will play a core role in Future Force 2020

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* 2 Queen Elizabeth-Class aircraft carriers will be built
* The Type 26 Global Combat Ship/frigate will be built
* 4 x Successor Ship, Submersible, Ballistic, Nuclear) (SSBNs) will be built to retain the UK’s strategic deterrent.
* 7 x Astute Ship Submersible Nuclear (SSN) Astute-Class boats
* 3 x River-Class Batch 2 Patrol Boats (likely to replace the older 3 Batch 1 boats)
* The Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) will be considered to replace current Mine-countermeasure vessels
* Merlin and Wildcat numbers will remain
* The Response Force Task Group (RFTG) annual COUGAR deployments will continue, with either Queen Elizabeth-Class carrier joining the RFTG post-2020.
* Unmanned aircraft, surface craft (USV) and undersea craft (UUV) will form the main R&D projects in the future Royal Navy

British Army:

* Army 2020 will continue with some unit changes and some units changing barracks. All units in Germany will return to the UK.
* Ajax (formerly SCOUT SV) production and numbers will continue and stay the same.
* Warrior upgrades aka Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (CSP) will continue, except that only 245 of them will receive the CTA 40mm gun/cannon (see this article). That is, not all of the six Army 2020 armoured infantry vehicles will gain the new gun/cannon
* Money will be set aside for the Mechanised Infantry Vehicle (former Utility Vehicle, former FRES UV) and the Multi-Role Vehicle-Protected (MRV-P) programmes.
* 50 Apaches will be upgraded to the E version.

Royal Air Force:

* 20 new “Protector” Remotely-Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) will be acquired, a double of the existing number. Basically, updated version of the MQ-9 Reaper.
* F-35Bs will be purchased.
* Trance 1 (T1) Typhoons will be retained to create additional Typhoon Squadrons for UK Quick Reaction Alert (QRA). Tranche 2 and 3 aircraft will thus be free for air-to-ground operations (that is, Operation Shader) (see this link)
* Sentinel R1 aircraft will be replaced.
* Other Intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft to be upgraded, except the E-3s.

Joint Forces:

* The range of UK Special Forces will gain new equipment.See this news article
* There will be a Multi-Mission Aircraft (MMA), not just a new Maritime Patrol aircraft. (see again this link
* Cyber defences will be strengthened, and the Joint Cyber Reserve will be a key part of this.
* The 77th Brigade (I put this under Joint since it consider of personnel from all services and civilians from other ministerial departments join it) will be a create part of soft power or mechanisms to stabilise or prevent conflict.

These are some of the top issues and assets you may get from SDSR 2015. What you MAY NOT GET or MOST LIKELY WON’T GET:


* Government will not have spare cash or large amount of spare cash to boost the Defence budget beyond 2% of GDP. It may gain funds from the Treasury Reserve, the Conflict Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The MOD may not have enough money to contribute to the Deployed Military Activity Pool (DMAP), which is a contingency fund within the CSSF, used to support the UK’s emerging in-year security, diplomatic and aid priorities.
* The UK may not, and has not recently been, the second highly country with the largest number of deployed troops in NATO. This level will unlikely be an issue in SDSR 2015.
* The UK will have to depend largely on the US and France should it find itself in a Iraq (Gulf War I mean) or Afghanistan-style conflict. Daesh seems to creating one. SDSR 2015 may not throw in money or personnel into this.
* Personnel shortages may be addressed but not solved in the short or long-term. It would mean lots of equipment without people to operate. More below.
* Chasing targets like 2% and 0.7% would be lots of changing goalposts and a fixation on money not quality. No change in SDSR 2015 for sure.

In terms of armed forces:

Royal Navy:

* SDSR 2015 will not increase personnel strength so that both carriers will operate simultaneously. In fact, snippets indicate that only 450 more sailors will be added to the Royal Navy’s strength. It might mean that HMS Queen Elizabeth won’t operate at full strength, even minus air group. One carrier at all times will most definitely be in port aka extended readiness.
* There will be no definitely confirmation that 13 Type 26 frigates will be ordered. Mybe there could be, but in “drips and draps”.
* There might be, as there always has been, delays to the Astute SSNs boats coming into service. Same with the never to be used Successor SSBNs.
* HMS Ocean may not or never be replaced as a like-for-like. The Royal Navy will have to depend on an aircraft carrier as a strike carrier and a LPH.
* The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) eldery ships may not be replaced like-for-like.
* The Royal Navy may only end up with the 3 new River-Class Batch 2 ships and HMS Clyde with the Batch 1 ships decommissioned early.
* The MHC project may be delayed.
* Not change in the Merlin HM2/MK2 numbers, so not enough for ASAC and carrier-based ASW roles.
* 809 NAS may have more RAF pilots than Fleet Air Arm (FAA) pilots

British Army:

* No change to Army 2020 in terms of units and personnel. Big adverse implications for units and the Special Forces–see below.
* There may be some removal of 2*s aka Major-Generals or even 1*s Brgadiers who don’t command units. But the Army may still be top-heavy.
* Army Command will change–Deputy CGGS and Commander Personnel Support Command, but that means more money for top commanders not units.
* Challenger 2 will be updated but may not improved or replaced anytime soon unlike this report. So this report is more likely.
* MIV and MRV-P may not appear in the short term.
* No change in CTA turrets or guns/cannon numbers.

Royal Air Force:

* No large order of F-35B aircraft. The orders may likely be in “drips and draps”.
* AMRAAMs may be kept in the long term and there may not be larger numbers of Meteor missile produced or ordered.
* As noted above, there may not be upgrades for all UK ISTAR aircraft or C2 aircraft such as the E-3 which is critical for QRA an operations.
* RAF may end up with more aircraft and still not solving its manpower shortage. This might affect not just the manned aircraft but the 20 new Protectors.

Joint Forces:

* The MMA or at least MPA will not be the highly expensive yet operational P-8 Poseidon. The yet unknown aircraft may not appear in the short term (say 2-4 years) after it is announced.
* The Joint Cyber Reserve may not likely become a full cyber unit despite cyber threats being a Tier 1 threat as identity in the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS).
* Special Forces will et their new equipment but with the shrunken Army 2020 and Future Force 2020, the various SF units may not be at full strength.

So there you have it folks!!! We wait the announcement around 1530 UK time 23 November 2015.