USMC F-35Bs on the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers: The benefits and challenges

This week, there was sudden ‘breaking news’ that USMC F-35Bs will be deployed on HMS Queen Elizabeth when the aircraft carrier deploys on its inaugural deployment in 2021. Experts, analysts and journalists (or so they title themselves) quickly praise or criticise this news.

But wait, don’t you all have any memories? This is not new news; rather it was announced at least 3 years ago. During a press conference with then Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon and US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, the former remarked, ” I can welcome the commitment of the United States to deploying F-35s on the first operational deployment of Queen Elizabeth — the HMS Queen Elizabeth in 2021.” This was even previous mentioned by defence-savy BBC journalist Mark Urban back in 2014. Other news articles, releases or documents that mention the USMC F-35Bs on HMS Queen Elizabeth include:

Defensenews article citing former First Sea Lord George Zambellas saying US will aid British F-35s entryr into operations

A Royal Navy news release in 2014 saying “The aim is for US aircraft to be able to operate from UK aircraft carriers and vice versa.” Also see similar news here.

Aviationweek news article in 2015 stating exactly the same news. You can find a related article here.

Also reported on USNI news, see also this article which says “A Marine F-35B squadron will join the Royal Navy strike group on its first operational deployment in 2021 as part of the air group.”

It’s also mentioned on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s issus news article here

Also found on UK parliamentary questions

as well as the anti-F35 website, War is Boring

So, the Military.com news isn’t really new news.

Anyway, like it, hate it, or love it, the Yanks are coming to fly off a British-made aircraft carrier. Of course, as previously pointed on on twitter and in an academic paper, this is not a new format of military operations. The good blogger Sir Humphrey also notes that during WWII, the usage of HMS Victorious, aka USS Robin, is another example or US-UK joint naval partnership. I argue that, it is not exactly, since firstly, the request to use a Royal Navy carrier was due to circumstances, while in this case, US usage of either HMS Queen Elizabeth or HMS Prince of Wales was well planned in advance. Second, while HMS victorious was rapidly altered to suit USN carrier operations, both QECs already were planned–ingoring the STOVL to CTOL and back debacle–from the start to be joint operable with USMC F-35Bs, or even other allied F-35Bs, more about that later.

OK, we can debate the history of allied operations from a single deck or cross-decking, but now that we are definitely certain HMS Queen Elizabeth’s 2021 deployment will include USMC F-35Bs, what are the benefits and challenges for the USMC or US forces in general?

Benefits:

1) Flight deck size, elevator: One, the USMC will enjoy a much larger flight deck. As far as I can gather, the QECs have a flight deck size of around 4.5 acres while the America-class, which the USMC F-35Bs wil use, has only 2 acres of flight deck. The QECs also quite possibly have a larger hangar–I may be wrong, and its elevators can lift 2 F-35Bs each while an America-class can lift only one–again I may be wrong. The typical deployment of USMC aircraft on an America-class LHA will be around 6, maximum 10, excluding some helicopters. With the QECs large size, it can deploy a full squadron–either of 10 of 16 planes. Naturally, the more the merrier. Also, by deploying their F-35Bs on board the QEC, this would free up space on their America-class for more helicopters, making them pure amphibious assault ships.

2) Ski-jump: I suppose this is the most important benefit the USMC will gain and utilise. The British love the skim-jump and since they are set for STOVL operations in the long-term, ie, using the F-35B, the have included the ski-jump to ensure the STOVL aircraft can safely fly off the aircraft carrier–since it doesn’t have catpults and more crucially, able to launch with a heavier payload. USN Wasp and America-class LHDs and LHAs have never included a ski-jump in their design, so the USMC F-35Bs will enjoy flying off the QECs confidently and with a heavier payload. This is especially since their weaponary, particularly their GBU-32 (1,013 pounds) is generally heavier than the RAF/FAA Paveway IV (550 pounds). The USMC may even learn how to land using Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL), the British-specific method of landing a STOVL aircraft with a heavy payload.

3) Organic AEW or ASAC, ASW: The USMC Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) / Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) Air component / Marine Air-Ground Task Force(MAGTF) does not, as yet, have an organic aerial early warning (AEW) aircraft/helicopter while the RN tailored task group will have the Merlin Mk2 mounted with the modified Thales Searchwater 2000 AEW radar . This AEW or ASAC system might not exactly be fully operational by the 2021 deployment, but it will quite definitely be part of any UK carrier-based strike group. The USMC might be procuring a better AEW UAV, but that will take time to develop, so while their are flying of either QEC carrier, they will have the safe knowledge that Royal Navy FAA AEW/ASAC helicopters will be aiding them.

The USMC aviation team also does not have organic ASW helicopters, although their USN counterparts might deploy MH-60R helicopters off their baby aircraft carriers. In contrast, the RN FAA has the Merlin Mk2, which has a primary ASW role. Furthermore, the QEC task group will most definitely be accompanied by a RN Type 23 or in future, Type 26 ASW frigate. So the USMC pilots will safely know that while on board either QEC carrier, they will be surrounded with perfect ASW assets, unlike in their ARG/MEU, which typically is just one LHA, one LPD and one LSD, no ASW assets.

4) Logistics: In relation to the first argument, the USMC themselves the utility of the QEC carriers due to their larger size. Various USMC Aviation plans, such as the 2015, 2016 (can’t find the link but a hard copy says so) and 2017 versions explicitly indicate that the QECs, as well as the Italian aircraft carrier Giuseppe Garibaldi will be used as for not just allied/joint operations but forward basing for logistics operations. The USMC calls it ‘Distributed Aviation Operations’ or DAO.

5) AAW: Again, a basic USN-USMC ARG set of ships does not include an air defence ship. The QEC carriers, on the other hand, will always, and I say this with certainty, be accompanied with a Type 45 destroyer or maybe two, or even allied AAW ship(s). I know their are many armchair admirals on and offline criticising the Type 45s for lack of sufficient numerical VLS cells, but I say it is a very effective and lethal AAW destroyer. So given that the US ARG doesn’t include such a ship as yet, USMC F-35B aviators will have an excellent opportunity working with RN Type 45s to form AAW operations for the task group.

These are just some of the benefits that the USMC will gain while operating from either QEC carrier. Of course, the RAF and FAA will likewise benefit from a USMC squadron in terms of mass–more aircraft for again air defence, training and strike operations. They will benefit from learning USMC logistics and repairs procedures, especially since the USMC is the leading force in terms of operating the F-35B. Now for the challenges

1) Messing: I suppose this is minor challenge or not even a problem. But generally, Americans are larger in weight than the British. The British have a tight Daily Messing Rate for their sailors which although keeps them active and energetic, is limited in terms of budget. I can’t exactly find the USN or USMC equivalent to the DMR, but I suspect US sailors and marines get fed of a slightly higher budget. The amount of calories may not differ, but the lifestyle may take time to adjust to.

2) Terminology: Yes, it is a Special Relationship, yes they are NATO partners, but the terminology used, especially since RAF Air Command is the lead for the joint RAF/FAA F-35Bs, may be different. This again may not be a major hurdle or challenge and quite definitely will be worked out pre-deployment.

3) Logistics: Both countries might be using the same stealth fighter, but each unit and country won’t exactly be using the set of weapons. The UK at present will arm their F-35Bs will ASRAAM, AIM-120 for air-defence/air superiority roles, and Paveway IV LGBs for strike missions. The USMC on the other hand, will AIM-120 and quite definitely AIM-9, and for striking, GBu-32 JDAM and GBU-12 LGB or Paveway II, the former which has never been used by the UK. In future, the UK aircraft will be armed with Meteor and SPEAR 3 while the USMC aircraft will have Small Diameter Bombs. Commander (Logistics), along with Commander (Weapons Engineering) on board the QEC carrier would then be challenged to ensure sufficient stocks of both UK and US weapons for each countries aircraft. In 2021, it is doubtful that the new Future Support Ships (FSS) will be operational ready for the QEC task group will have to depend on United States Navy’s Military Sealift Command ammunition ships, quite definitely the Lewis and Clark-class ships, adding to their challenge. There will quite undoubtedly USN, USNMC and USMC on board to assist with logistics distribution and USN or USMC aviation ordnanceman but this might be a challenge to overcome.

4) Command and control and rules of engagement: Again, whilst both countries have worked extremely closely before, are NATO allies and have a Special Relationship, one of the biggest challenges and perhaps problems will be the C2C and ROE. Sir Humphrey presents a simple friendly scenario of how both countries will work together using the QEC, that is, a NEO. I present a different scenario: Say for example the UK just wants to use the QEC task group for conventional deterrence against country A while the US dislikes country A’s WMD development so much it orders its F-35Bs on board the QEC to attack country A’s facilities. Will the UK, not wishing to start a military conflict, agree? One must take a step back to the Pristina Airport incident, where even well under tight allied NATO command, then Lieutenant General Mike Jackson told his superior US General Wesley Clark, “”I’m not going to start the Third World War for you.” What if, during the course of the 2021 deployment, there is a similar disagreement? Will both parties agree to how the QEC will operate? Or take a less confrontational scenario: Say the British only wish for F-35Bs to assist with a NEO that evacuates British citizens but the US wishes to use those F-35Bs to enforce a US-led by UK-abstained, UNSC-voted No-fly zone. Would it then be USMC aircraft launching to enforce a NFZ and British aircraft just for self-defence?

There are other challenges but of course, the higher powers will work it out, although there may be more Pristina airport like disagreements. There are also other questions such as:

1) How many F-35Bs will the USMC VMFA squadron have 10, or 16? Either number is the proposed size of any USMC VMFA F-35B squadron. If it is 10, this will mean that there will be 22 (12 (UK) + 10 (US) fixed-wing aircraft on board. If it is 16, then there will be 28 (12+16). The larger the number, the less number of Merlin Mk2 (ASW and AEW/ASAC) and Merlin Mk4 (Join Personnel Recovery and Commando air assault).

2) From which USMC Air Station will the squadron deploy from? There are no USMC bases in the UK on permanently stationed in the NATO/European continent so they will most likely deploy from either USMC Air Station Cherry Point or USMC Air Station Beaufort–these are US East Coast USMC Air Stations; it is highly unlikely the squadron will come from those stationed on the West Coast. Which ever Air Station they come from, it still might affect the direction HMS Queen Elizabeth will sail to for its first operational deployment.

3) Following up from deployment and the the challenge of differing ROE and C2C, will the inaugural operation actually be towards the the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Pacific region as former Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson announced? Or will it be sail directly to the Persian Gulf where Donald Trump and John Bolton and fanning the flames of war towards Iran?

There are so many questions. For now, it is welcoming to have friendly F-35Bs on board.

Welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment and British Army control of CBRN

1 April 2019 marks, no, not April Fools Day, but the re-formation of 28 Engineer Regiment (RE) which disbanded back in 2014. This reformation re-creates a Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Regiment for the British Armed Forces, totally under British Army control. The unit used to command wide-wet river crossing squadrons in British Forces Germany.

History of CBRN capability in the British Armed Forces

The UK had some foresight in creating a unit to counter or at least detect CBRN agents. This was the result 1998 Strategic Defence Review, which foresaw such a need (see paragraph 35). The outcome was the Joint CBRN Regiment, which consisted of the then- 1st Royal Tank Regiment (RTR) and as well as reserve elements from 2623 Squadron RAuxAF Regiment and the Royal Yeomanry. In 2010, with the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government came the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), which saw military unit cuts due to a inaccurate prediction of a peace dividend after the Afghanistan campaign. Those cuts saw the removal of the Joint CBRN Regiment and the Fuchs vehicles,  with all 11 of them slated for disposal, see also this answer in 2011. The 1st RTR would merge with its sister, the 2nd RTR, to form up a whole Challenger 2 Regiment. After some consideration, CBRN capability was retained at a smaller capability, from joint to purely under the RAF Regiment’s control. 27 Squadron RAF Regiment would join with 26 Squadron RAF Regiment (see this and this), and 2623 RAuxAF to maintain CBRN capability, with the Fuchs vehicles most definitely shelved.

Sniff, sniff. Then came the Arab Spring and then Syrian Civil War which saw Assad using chemical weapons on his own people and maybe the ISIS group. MPs questioned why the UK removed its essential CBRN capability in a debate. A couple years later, Falcon Squadron from the RTR was re-formed along side the other squadrons of the merged RTR. The squadron’s role was officially known as a ‘CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance Squadron’ and you can read all about it in this article. The Fuchs vehicles were recommissioned or regenerated at a price of £7,115,941 in 2015, with a simulator already ordered in 2014. The RTR official Facebook page later showed pictures of the vehicles in action, including a Husky and a unidentifiable vehicle – check out this picture, this picture and this one.

Ok, so Fuchs had returned and the RTR was proud of it. The RTR Association website used to have newsletters – its now updated and they are sadly gone – and one of them described the structure of Falcon Squadron:

CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance (AS&R) Capability
Falcon Squadron RTR provide defence’s CBRN Area Survey and Reconnaissance capability. Manned by the RTR they are under the command of 22 Engr Regt in Force Troops
Command. Falcon Squadron is equipped with two troops of four German Fuchs TPz vehicles. Each Fuchs is capable of chemical and radiological hazard detection and is crewed by four CBRN Specialists who are able to operate in CBRN hazard areas due to the vehicles

Ok, so the British Army restored its CBRN capability, and it would fall under 22 Engineer Regiment. Nevertheless, this was only a squadron or company-sized unit and the RAF regiment still held the bulk of CBRN capability. Fast forward to SDSR 2015, and if you look closely at the Joint Force 2025 graphics, you would realise the future RAF Regiment size would be slightly smaller. Yours truly guessed rightly and confirmed by a FOIA that the Army would fully take on the responsibility of CBRN. This was further confirmed in the Royal Engineers Association Management Committee minutes: 1) 23 February 2018 minutes stated the creation of “a Counter Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear Regiment” by 2019 under the name and 2) this was also confirmed in the 29 January 2019 minutes.

Organisation and shape of things to come

Welcome back 28 RE and British Army Counter-CBRN! The first question that came to ‘wannabe military experts’ or ORBAT-crazy people (not me) was: What is the structure of this new regiment? Thankfully and quite willingly, the answer was revealed in this tweet:

64 HQ & Sp Squadron (C-CBRN)
42 Field Squadron (C-CBRN)
FALCON Squadron (C-CBRN)
77 Field Squadron (C-CBRN).

64 and 42 are former squadrons from the former 28 RE, Falcon we know where it’s from — will it get a number under its new parent regiment? 77 Squadron was from 35 RE which was a close support engineer regiment but under Army 2020 Refine, that regiment is now an Explosive Ordnance and Search (EOD&S) regiment. Beyond 28 RE, the Defence CBRN Centre at Winterbourne Gunner has shifted command from the RAF Regiment to the Royal School of Military Engineering (RSME) Group, further cementing the Army’s control of CBRN away from the RAF — you can see further tweets about the transfer here and here

This RAF to British Army control of Counter-CBRN and ‘new’ formation didn’t occur peacefully as Russia, mostly definitely through President Putin, released Novichok in Salisbury, nearly killing former GRU Colonel Sergei Skirpal and his daughter Yuulia and accidentally killing Dawn Sturgess and affecting Charlie Rowley. Falcon Squadron and the respective RAF regiments were in fact used in the cleaning up of Salisbury. So the British Armed Forces rightly restored its Counter-CBRN capability, but its adversaries are certainly moving at a faster pace.

So what next for 28 Engineer Regiment? For one, with the strained personnel shortfall in British Army recruitment, retention and training, the first challenge is whether there is really enough qualified – Counter-CBRN work is ‘rocket science’ – personnel to fully man each squadron as stated above. 28 RE, now sitting under 12 Force Support Engineer Group will not just have to deal with future CBRN attacks on British soil but help detect and clear paths for the Army’s single ‘warfighting’ division in any operation. The second most pressing challenge is which vehicle will replace the Fuchs vehicles, which are old and, via a FOIA, will likely go out of service (OSD) in 2019/2020. Oh yes, they did issue a Prior Information Notice in March 2019 to to upgrade 10 Fuchs and 1 simulator hoping to extend the OSD to 2024 or even 2027. A much newer vehicle would be rather welcoming. The Army is in the process of acquiring Ajax, Boxer and much later, the MRV-P Group 1 and Group 2 vehicles. MRV-P Group 1, which sadly or thankfully, will be the US-made Oshkosh L-ATV might be a possible choice, or even Boxer, in the same fashion as the US M1135 Nuclear, Biological, Chemical, Reconnaissance [Stryker] Vehicle. Or even something else. Personally, the personnel issue will be the most challenging part first. This discussion would require another post.

Anyway, welcome back 28 Engineer Regiment.

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.

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):

Strategy:

* 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:

Strategy:

* 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.

From SDSR 2010 to 2015: The “positives”

Well the Conservatives are in full power and they will dominate the decision making for the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR). People of course will remember the Treasury-led 2010 SDSR which was more of a review to find monetary savings, not to instruct defence plans and to consider security threats. Inasmuch as it wasn’t really a review, the years after until 2015 saw several “positives” for UK defence assets and policies. Below is a (quite incomplete) list of UK defence procurement and initiatives that hae take place, due to the 2010 SDSR as well as the security threats subsequently.

Royal Navy/Royal Marines

* The creation of the annual COUGAR task force/the Response Force Task Group (RFTG)

See for example COUGAR 11

COUGAR 12

COUGAR 13

COUGAR 13

* The ordering of the four MARS Tankers (under the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA))

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

* The ordering of the Sea Venom and Martlet missiles

* The planning of the Type 26 Frigate

* Bringing both QECs into active serivce.

* Arming up to 4 x Type 45 Destroyers will Harpoon ASuW missiles

British Army

* Forming Army 2020

* Bringing Herrick Urgent Operational Requirements (UOR)s into core

* SCOUT SV planning and contract

* The ordering of the Lynx Wildcat

Royal Air Force

* Planning and ordering of support aircraft such as the Voyager, A400M, Rivet Joint

* Typhoon enhancements

* Chinook JULIUS project

* The Taranis demonstrator/Unmanned Combat Aircraft (UCAV) project

Joint Forces

* The creation of Joint Forces Command (JFC)

Defence 

* Levene Reform (which resulted in the the creation of the JFC)

To be updated

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.