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 Other Merlin: Merlin HC3/4 numbers

Most people have fallen in love with long serving UK military aircraft like the Harrier, the Spitfire and perhaps the Sea King Helicopter. The Sea King Mk4 (the troop carrying version) will soon leaving active service and will be replaced by the Merlin HC.3/HC.4.

Under the Future Force 2020 (not really SDSR 2010), 25 RAF Merlin HC.3s would be modified and transferred to the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Army (also see this). Or more specifically, the Commando Helicopter Force (CHF) of, or rather for the Royal Marines. The plan has sort of proceeded smoother than most other post SDSR 2010 projects, with 846 NAS being the first squadron to gain these aircraft and then next, 845 NAS. In fact, 846 NAS just returned to RNAS Yeovilton (HMS Heron) with six/6 of these new helicopters. I believe, as the Defense Industry Daily article says, that there were to be at least seven/7, so maybe one more will join it (more on this below). At around the same time, the UK MOD announced a sustainment contract for both Merlin Helicopters. Some may say this is typical Conservative/Tory PR for their General Election 2015/GE2015 campaign, but you still do need investment to create and sustain helicopters.

The whole new Royal Navy/FAA Merlin Fleet will specifically consist of

…845 NAS and 846 NAS each operating 10 Merlin HC.4s, with five aircraft in the maintenance fleet. Each squadron will operate three flights. 845 NAS will have three deployable, go-anywhere flights, with each flight deploying with four Merlins. 846 NAS will have the Operational Conversion Flight, Maritime Counter Terrorist Flight, and a deployable flight to bolster 845 NAS if required.

Now that immediately seems strange. 10 aircraft per each active medium-lift squadron, but you want 4 x Merlins per flight? That would mean 12 x Merlins per Squadron. I guess the extra 2-4 will be drawn from the five/5 helicopters in maintenance? Or would this four/4 per flight configuration only occur during active operations/wartime? Pro-military people would of course still argue this 20 + 5 configuration is too small. I say it’s not bad consideration the fleet size is smaller than it’s counterpart, where 30 HM2 or Mk2 have been ordered and possibly eight more may be converted. Possibly.

Now, let’s go even deeper into the helicopter itself. As said above, it is replacing the veteran Sea King helicopter Mk4. The Sea King supposedly is able to carry 28 troops while these Merlins will only carry carry 24 equipped troops. (I’m not so sure the Sea King’s were able to carry that many soldiers. The Agusta-Westland site says the Merlin can carry up to 38 troops but that’s only possibly without gear). There’s a good description on the upgrades of the Merlin HC.3/HC./3A to the Merlin HC.4 in this Naval Technology article. It is pretty well-written so I shan’t summarise it here.

Overall, the Merlin HC.4 plan seems pretty alright, except how the FAA will detail the number of aircraft per flight. The maximum of twelve/12 Merlins for 845 NAS (as you see 846 NAS ultimately is for training and counter-terrorism, with only one flight for troop transport), means the CHF alone can only life a small almost company-sized force from ship to shore or from land to land. This is the stark reality of Future Force 2020.

This post will be updated later.

British Army Vehicles OSD–Out of Service…

More often than not, the House of Lords doesn’t churn out interesting defence or foreign affairs-related debates or questions-answers. A recent question by Lord Moonie however, breaks the norm. Check it out below :

Armoured Fighting Vehicles
To ask Her Majesty’s Government which of the following vehicle types are still in service with the British Army and what were or are their anticipated out of service dates: Challenger 2, Driver Track Training Vehicle, Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicles, Trojan, Titan, Warrior, Saxon, Samson, Spartan, Scimitar, Samaritan, Sultan, Snatch Land Rover, FV430, Mastiff, Jackal, Vector, Bulldog, and Panther.

The out of service dates of the vehicles specified are as follows:

Vehicle Type Planned Out Of Service Date
Challenger 2 2025
Driver Track Training Vehicle 2025
Challenger Armoured Repair and Recovery Vehicle 2040
Trojan 2040
Titan 2040
Warrior 2025
Saxon Out of service
Samson 2026
Spartan 2026
Scimitar 2026
Samaritan 2026
Sultan 2026
Snatch Land Rover (1, 1.5, 2 and Vixen variants) Out of service
Snatch Land Rover (2A and 2B variants) 2024
Snatch Land Rover (Vixen Plus variant) 2024
FV 430 Out of service
Mastiff 2024
Jackal 2030
Vector 2015
Bulldog 2030
Panther 2037

Well, the above say “anticipated Out of Service Dates (OSD)” but planned may well just be actual. Whatever it is, the table raises worries for the whole Army 2020 and Future Force 2020 equipment plans. Reaction Force (RF) vehicles seem to be leaving pretty early–Challenger 2 and its “Driver Track Training Vehicle” will be OSD by 2025, along with the British Army’s only Armoured Personnel Carrier, the Warrior. These two vehicles are part of the Armoured Infantry (AI) Brigades in the RF. Of course both variants are to upgraded–the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP)and the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP). Neither programme is completed and both are facing challenges. A key issues is also the firepower of the Challenger 2 tank–the L30 rifled gun is great, but eventually it should be replaced with something like other NATO armies smoothbore guns in order to tackle adversaries such as the Russian T-90 or the new Armata tank.

Moving down, the Mastiff was to continued be part of the “Heavy Protected Mobility Regiments”. The Mastiff 2 or 3 vehicle is great but the table says “bye bye” to it by 2024. Mastiff is to be replaced by the yet-to-be-shown Utility Vehicle (UV). UV was originally FRES UV, which was to be a similar design to the FRES SV (now SCOUT SV) vehicle. So it is crucial that the UV programme stays on track, or either the Mastiff 2/3 continues beyond 2024.One positive note from above is that the Bulldog armoured/mechanised vehicles will stay at least till 2030. Originally the FV 432, these upgraded vehicles serve as mortar carriers in the Warrior Armoured Infantry Regiments, possibly troop-carrying vehicles for Support Companies and medical armoured vehicles in the Medical Armoured Regiments. If the UV vehicle fails to materialise, perhaps the Bulldog could be an interim. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps… Bulldog may also help as an interim vehicle until the Armoured Battlefield Support Vehicle (ABSV) is finalised. A Warrior without its 30mm/40mm gun, this vehicle is suppose to act as a mortar launching vehicle/sniper/anti-tank troop carrier, recovery and repair and even medical evacuation vehicle. Another programme that must be kept on track.(Also see page 184 of this NAO report regarding the ABSV).

The CVR (T) family will all go by 2026 but they have a stated replacement in the form of the SCOUT SV variants. This heavy armoured infantry fighting vehicle seems to be on track, but one may never know. The Royal Engineers (those supporting the RF) may heavy a sigh of relief as their vehicles wont go out until 2040. These mine clearing, route-clearing vehicles are great, not just in conventional warfare but counter-insurgency (COIN) operations. The Challenger 2 recovery vehicle will still stay around till 2040, so maybe the upgraded Challenger 2 will. Or its successor…

Moving down to the Adaptable Force (AF) vehicles, we see that the Jackal Vehicle (and perhaps its longer Coyote variant) will bow out by 2030. So the Light Cavalry Regiments are fine for a while. Jackal/Coyote is also used in the Mastiff/UV regiments, so that’s also not too bad. They are also crucial reconnaissance vehicles for the Royal Marines and the 16th Air Assault Brigade/Air Assault Task Force. This is especially so for the 16th AA Brigade/AATF, since this unit no longer has Scimitar vehicles supporting it. The lighter-than-the-SCOUT-SV (or even ABSV) Panther Command & Control  vehicle appears to have long “shelf life”, OSD-ing only in 2037. Some commentators I have talked to says this is an over-exaggerated target date. Exaggerated or not, it ensures that AF (and possibly some RF battalions) have some Command and Control vehicles. Panther is nice, though a new variant or vehicle should be procured. One that allows more command staff to sit at the back–2 at the back is far too little. What else? ah, of course the hated Vector vehicle gets OSD this year, 2015. One of the many creations or Urgent Operational Requirements (UORs) during the Afghanistan Campaign, it wasIED-prone despite its supposed armour and hated by troops. It’s supposed replacement is the Truck Utility Medium Heavy Duty. Hopefully it will far better in conflict–if it is used in conflict.

Conclusion: The table above, if the data is correct, means the upgrading programmes for the Challenger 2, the Warrior, the UV programme and even the SCOUT SV programme need to be on track. The Defence Equipment and Support (DES) will have lots of pressure on their hands. With a highly possible defence budget decrease, some numbers of these upgrades will be cut, as seen in this IHS Janes report regarding the Challenger 2. That’s pretty sad. Many other key vehicles such as the AS-90, the Alvis Stormer (for the Starstreak HVM), the Foxhound Light Protected Mobility vehicle aren’t in the above table. It would be interesting to see their OSDs, as they are part of Army 2020 or Future Force 2020.

Update: I made and received an FOIA regarding other other key Army 2020 vehicles. Part of the FOIA (I will not publish the full document) is reproduced below.

A search for the information has now been completed within the Ministry of Defence, and I can confirm that information in scope of your request is held. The answers to your questions are in the table below:

Vehicle Out of service date
FUCHs 2020
Warthog 2024
L131 AS-90 Self Propelled Artillery 2030
M270 GMLRS 2030
Alvis Stormer 2026
Ridgback Battlefield Ambulance 2024
Husky TSV 2024
Foxhound 2030

Well it looks like the major artillery pieces for 1st Artillery Brigade’s Close Support regiments will stay on till around 2030. There is a high probability that the UK will replace the M270 GMLRS with whatever the US Army replaces theirs with, or even buy the (better) HIMARS. As for the AS-90, well I would recommend they just improve the calibre or the type of artillery shell.

The UOR bought from Singapore, (yes Singapore, an ex-British colony), the ST Kinetics Bronco ,or Warthog in the British Army, will will serve in the Watchkeeper WK450 regiments–they act as launching platforms. More specifically, they will probably be allocated in 47th Regiment, Royal Artillery (RA), the regiment for RF brigades. The Bronco/Warthog served well in Op Herrick, and transferring it to a UAV role, is well, the least they could do. With an OSD in 2024, the RA or rather DES needs to find a replacement vehicle or work with ST Kinetics to extended the lifespan of this vehicle. Possible replacements could be the BvS 10 Viking (which means ordering more), or using the yet-to-be seen Utility Vehicle (UV).

The earliest vehicle about to exit is the FUCHS (in 2020). This as stated in an earlier post (or here) returns to be be the primary vehicle of Falcon Squadron, Royal Tank Regiment (RTR). With CBRN being a hot issue for UK defence (or rather suggested as a key topic by the HOC Defence Select Committe), nine FUCHS vehicles will be refurbished. Yet, with the vehicle predicted to be OSD by 2020, it possibly has no replacement (a A letter by the RTR Commandant suggests it may be replaced by a UAV ). I personally would want a FUCHS-like vehicle replacement for the FUCHS, possibly a modified UV.

Next, the Alvis Stormer will bow out in 2026. Although not spelt out directly in the Army 2020 document, it is used to give mobility for the Starstreak HVM missiles in 12th Regiment Royal Artillery. I can’t immediately think of what can be used to replace the Stormer; the SCOUT SV base for example is too heavy for a mobile SAM platform. Thy might want to buy the US AN/TWQ-1 Avenger vehicle from the US or mount them on Coyotes. The wheeled ambulance, the Rigdback Ambulance exits in 2024. Don’t worry, the UV medical variant might replace it, maybe. The Husky TSV, another piece that sprung up from Afghanistan, is important to both the RF and AF units. I hope there’s a replacement in the works, or it gets extended beyond 2024. Finally, the good ol’ Foxhound, which will dominate six regiments/battalions in the AF. 2030 eh? Matches its friends the Jackal and perhaps the Panther. Still sometime to think of a better replacement, hopefully one that can sit more than four soldiers.

OK folks, that’s it for now!

Weak or non-arguments for women in close combat

This isn’t exactly the Future Force 2020 or Army 2020 post I wished to write but this morning I had a tweet debate with former (yes former he is no longer in active service) Colonel Richard Kemp, the self-proclaimed commander of British Forces in Afghanistan (dubious claim but that is another matter). He was tweeting an article by the Telegraph (or Tory-graph) that said that women could be called for close combat roles. So he wrote on twitter:

“Women in Infantry. No military logic, political correctness. A further move to weaken the Army’s fighting capability”

I launched a short twitter debate (in the time I had–I’m not reposting it here as you can check out either of our accounts) and he from his high end position try to argue what I called non-arguments. These included:

The Israel Defence Force (IDF) may have women in the infantry, and so do the Kurds. I’m talking about the British Army. (Suddenly, the British Army will be weaker than these armies/armed forces if women serve in close combat/the infantry?)

Women in the artillery, CAS (Close in Air Support–either Gunships or piloted aircraft), Engineers are different from Women in the infantry. (He failed to show how so and as if the physical and mental strain for women in these combat/combat support service units make less of a difference than women in the infantry)

Women in the infantry will spoil combat effectiveness. (No definition of Combat effectiveness–see argument above and no examples in comparison to other armed forces)

Have you served in the infantry? (That was a question to me. I hate, extremely hate people challenging others over military service. Serving or having served in a combat unit or armed forces does not mean you are better off than others and have stronger knowledge of the military. Non-argument.)

Serving in the infantry is like a surgeon operating. (Facepalm. A surgeon is a specialist requiring at least two medical degrees. An infantry soldier does not require a specialist degree or is considered a specialist. Conversely, artillerymen/women. pilots, engineers do.)

Kemp cities only the 2014 Gaza Conflict where IDF female soldiers served support roles. (Like in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, women did not served in combat in the IDF? Or quasi-military organisations? Or the Mossad?)

Worst argument of all by Kemp: Women don’t join male football teams, so they shouldn’t join the infantry. (What sort of stupid argument or non-argument is that? Super Facepalm)

If Kemp thinks he owns the British Army or knows the whole combat effectiveness of the Army (he only talks about the infantry which in combat requires CSS and aerial support), I just don’t know.

PS: All this debate is due to the yet to be released UK government investigation/consultation on Women in Ground Close Combat Roles. See this article for example.

PPS: Richard Kemp WAS NOT and never WAS Commander British Forces Afghanistan. He was

!) Only Commander for Operation Fingal from 5 July 2003 to 30 November 2003–a pity few months!!!!

2) He commanded only a force of 300 plus troops!!!!