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?

There were once 16 frigates…can we have 16 again please?

The former UK Coalition government and the present Conservative government has occasionally talked about how they will improve the Royal Navy by mentioning the Type 26 Global Combat Ship/Frigate project. It is stated in many media circles that there will be a “like for like” replacement, that is each of the current 13 Type 23 frigates will be replaced by 13 Type 26 frigates. (See for example this, this , this and this. What some people don’t remember or realise is that there once were 16, not 13 Type 23 frigates in the Royal Navy Fleet.

I’m talking about HMS Norfolk, Marlborough and Grafton, the first, third and twelve ships of the Duke-class frigates. These ships served the Royal Navy for 15, 14 and 9 years respectfully before they were (sadly) transferred to the Chilean Navy as a result of the 2003 Defence White Paper, “Delivering Security in a Changing World”. Norfolk served as part as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)’s Standing Naval Force Atlantic and visited areas such as the Falklands and South Africa. Marlborough was the first ship to be on scene to assist the USS Cole in the aftermath of the Al-Queda-led attack. Grafton, well, she serve in the areas as Type 23s would serve (I can’t find much information on HMS Grafton, anyone who is willing to contribute?)

My point is, these sold-off Type 23s can some use for the Royal Navy during their service. There of course is the debate or debates should they have been sold off and what they could have done if they were kept. Let’s however focus on the future. It is well stated that 13 Type 26 frgates will be insufficient to meet defence/Royal Navy operations or even sustain the Queen Eliabeth-class carrier-led task force. This can be seen in the former Defence Select Comittee’s report Re-thinking defence to meet new threats (particularly page 27). Since the harp is a “like for like” replacement for the Type 23s, why not have 16 Type 26 frigates instead?

This immediately sounds like a “fantasy fleet” idea but it in fact is a plausible plan for Future Force 2020. The extra 3 Type 26s need not be exactly the same as the 8 anti-submarine warfare variants or the 5 General Purpose (GP) variants. They could for example:

1) Have less Mk41 VLS cells and use the remainder stuff for storage space, electronic equipment etc

2) Be used to patrol benign areas like “Atlantic Patrol (North)” or the Caribbean. You don’t need 24 VLS strike cells to chase down smugglers. Nor do you really need 48 Sea Ceptor/CAMM-N missiles unless there is a massive aerial threat to the ship. So the 3 extra frigates could have a reduced displacement by cutting down the number of Sea Ceptor missiles by say a third of a half. This again would free up more space.

3) Having reduced the offensive capabilities does not really mean these extra frigates will be useless. They could be compensated with a larger mission bay so that more Royal Marines or Special Forces could be stored or more of their gear. The hangar could be enlarged so that a maritime Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and helicopter could be launched simultaneously or that these frigates could carry 2 Merlin helicopters–one for general duties; the other for anti-submairne warfare.

OR
The extra Type 26s could mirror their sister ships. I’ve always wondered why the Royal Navy wished to have the 5-8 system and deny five frigates from having the excellent Sonar 2087. However, since that will unlike change, why not boost the GP variant with 3 extra ships? They could:

1) Again have the same layout as their GP sisters, thus giving the Royal Navy greater anti-surface warfare (ASuW) capability and land-attack options.

2) They could gain have a different or smaller layout and still be deployed as GP ships but for task like anti-mine operations or again, special forces deployment. The former could be a viable option with these extra Type 26 frigates used as “motherships” for the mine warfare vessels instead of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA)’s Bay-class ships. This would allow the Bay Landing Ship Dock (LSD)’s to be used for their primary roles.

There are many other possibilities that the extra thee ships could be used for but I’m sure you get the idea–16 is a number that should be the case, not evne just aimed for. Now of course, there are counter arguments to having more than 13. First, people would say that the Royal Navy personnel strength is not at or anywhere near 1005, as shown in the monthly statistics. So asking for more would be nice, but impractical. Second, as it is with the Conservatives and even some parts of Labour, it would be costly to build so many new warships. Third, people might say 13 is enough since by the thirteenth ship, Scotland might be independent and not allow rUK (rest of the UK) to use its construction yards.

I would say first, personnel strength is critical for all of the British armed forces but for the Type 26, it can be varied and even reduced, especially for three extra ships. Second, costs are relative and it may be the case that the cost could drop or that there could be some sensible funding of the defence budget. As for Scotland, well, the Type 26 is for the current UK and should be so. There are of course other counter arguments, but you get my idea.

So big wigs in the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces, can we please do a proper like for like replacement for the Type 23s?

The Merlin Mk2 Challenge

The Merlin Helicopter Fleet was was identified as one of the two main Naval Helicopter for the Royal Navy, the other being the Lynx Wildcat. The Merlin Mk2 in particular, would be the key anti-submarine warfare (ASW) helicopter for the ASW-centric Royal Navy, an upgraded version of the Mk1. There however, is another role for the Merlin Mk2. It is to be used as a Airborne Early Warning (AEW)/Airborne Surveillance And Control (ASAC) aircraft. This after all is to replace the age-old Sea King Mk7 which have held the ASAC role for a long time since after the Falklands War.

All seems rather simple, but the challenge boils down to numbers. It was longed planned that only only 30 out of 38 Mk1s would be upgraded to the new Mk2 standard. Dividing that between ASW and AEW/ASAC roles, not forgetting there needs to be Merlins for the Type 23s/45s and training/operational conversion units, 30 is a rather low number. Then in May 2014, a report stated that another few Mk1s would be upgraded although the number was not stated. This report further revealed further details:

In the current fleet configuration, 25 Merlin Mk. 2s need to be available at readiness with five in maintenance. Of those 25, 14 will be dedicated to the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier (QEC) when that ship puts to sea as part of a task group, with aircraft configured for the ASW role and the airborne early warning mission, equipped with the radar system selected through the Crowsnest program.

That sounds much better for the future Royal Navy, particularly for the carrier-centred Response Force Task Group (RFTG)/COUGAR deployment. Even so, the numbers must be finalised to be more than 30 to make the Mk2 force credible. From the quote, 14 Mk2s will operate off the Queen-Elizabeth Class carrier, though this depends on the mission. This news release, particularly page 71, states that an adequate force would be 4 Merlins for ASW activities, and 4 for AEW/ASAC. It has been reported that only ten Crowsnest (see also this article ) radar sets would be purchased, and not all ten will probably be used. I would wage, as has others, that at the maximum eight (8) sets will be for AEW/ASAC duties, and the remainder for training/OCU.

It sounds nice to have more than 30 Merlin Mk2s but the number must be finalised soon. Stepping back, it’s all about the two carriers. If we have 14 Merlin Mk2s operational on one carrier but the other rotates, we need spare Mk2s to deploy on the next carrier when it relieves the second. Theoretically, there should be 14×2=28 Merlin Mk2s for rotation, though that would mean really stretching the Royal Navy’s budget. But let’s be conservative and have only four Merlin Mk2s (in rotation with the AEW/ASAC Merlins). That means exactly 34 Merlin Mk2s to be brought in service. There’s also the other eleven (11) Merlin Mk2s by the way. We know around five or six (5/6) will be for the small ship flights, 829 Naval Air Squadron (NAS). That leaves the other half for training/OCU or even rotation if the budget is tight and regretably, only 30 Merlin Mk2s will be around from 2015.

Another challenge is which helicopter squadrons will be around when the final numbers of Merlin Mk2s will be fixed. At present:

Merlin Squadrons:
814 NAS
820 NAS (both ASW Merlin Mk1/Mk2s based upon the assault ships/QECs/RFA ships
824 NAS (training/OCU “Parent” unit for the ASW Squadrons)
829 NAS (small ship flights for Type 23/26/35 frigates and destroyers)

Sea King Mk7 AEW/ASAC Squadrons:

849 NAS (training/OCU “Parent” unit for the AEW/ASAC Squadrons)
854 NAS (AEW/ASAC Squadron)
857 NAS (AEW/ASAC Squadrons)

Basing upon 30 Merlin Mk2s, 829 NAS will definitely survive, especially with the future Type 26 frigates with Sonar 2087. 849 NAS will survive until at leasr 2018, operating seven/7 Sea King Mk7. It will probably disband afterwards. Now with 30 Merlin Mk2s and 14 operational on a QEC, that would mean 1) at least one squadron on the QEC. This one squadron will govern all 14 Mk2s, but they be split amongst ASW, AEW/ASAC and Search and Rescue (SAR) duties (you need SAR for an aircraft carrier! Don’t just depend on your escorts). Or 2), two (2) Squadrons governing all 14 Merlin Mk2s on the carrier, meaning one squadron for ASW, one for AEW/ASAC.

As stated, there should (logically) be rotating Merlin Squadrons (one/two back at a Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) and those on the QEC so that as the carriers rotate, the flight personnel and helicopters do as well. Looking at the picture, since ASW is the bigger component on a QEC (but not more critical), 814 and 820 NAS both should survive post 2015/2020 so that they rotate between each carrier. If option 2) occurs, that would mean 845 and 857 NAS will survive, or one of the NAS will survive but will be double manned (like part of 815 NAS). Not forgetting the 5 or 6 NAS remaining from the 25-14-5/6. Those will either be training/OCU or even a Test and Evaluation Squadron. So either 824 or 849 NAS will survive, but not both.

All this is of course guesswork. But bottom line is that there must be more than 30 Merlin Mk2s in the future and enough NAS squadrons to make both carriers worthwhile.

Update: Well, the Royal Navy has revealed some part of it. 849 NAS, the OCU for the Sea King Mk.7 ASAC/AEW will be the one and only ASAC squadron after 2018, and turn into a front line squadron. It will have three flights of possible six Merlin Mk2s will the Crowsnest technology (logical guess.). Two of the flights are drawn from the two current frontline ASAC/AEW squadrons, 854 and 857 NAS. They will be named “Normandy Flight” and “Palembang Flight” respectively. 857 NAS will disband in 2015 and 854 later. See this link. Sad case for only one ASAC/AEW Squadron but good confirmation.