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 http://cigeography.blogspot.fr/)

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.

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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?

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.