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 Type 26 Frigate: The October 2014 Letter

Something letters/emails/news releases/literature exaggerates, other times the just lie to the reader. This parliamentary letter from current UK Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, to the current Chairman of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee Rory Stewart may be telling a huge lie or exaggerating, or simply giving the facts which could have been given earlier. I focus of several parts of the letter.

First, Fallon’s reply states or rather confirms that the Type 26 may (the design isn’t finalised) carry the the Mk 41 VLS tubes. This is significant as previously, it was a toss up between Mk 41 or the SYLVER VLS, which the Royal Navy already uses on its Type 45 destroyers. There has been many articles on the pros and cons regarding each different VLS system, but the Mk 41 certainly is the better choice for the Royal Navy in terms of practicality (Others have covered this in greater detail so I won’t–for the moment). In any case, the sweating of whether it was going to Mk 41 is finally over.

A second more surprising topic/issue brought up from the letter is the number of VLS cells, 24. Now, if you skim through old articles and blogs about the Type 26, everyone said the first model in around 2012 had 24 cells. Then in 2013 with the high likelihood of it moving to Mk 41, the number dropped to 16, given the almost definitive displacement and dimensions of the ship. You can view NavyRecognition’s articles here and here and watch the two Youtube videos below.

16 tubes in my view would be pushing it to the bare minimum so the letter would be on the surface a welcome. But 24 tubes would mean a ship with a larger displacement (noting that the MK 41 is a heavy tube) and of large dimensions. Secretaries of State and politicians are known for never telling the truth or setting the facts straight. Stil, this is from a SoS to a Select Committee Chairman, most possibly for a report (I can’t figure out what the letter is exactly for; any guesses?). 24 is a nice touch but not without complications.

Third, the possibility of exaggeration comes in the types of weapons the Mk 41 VLS cells may fire. The letter says “Such as the Tomahawk Land Attack Missile), to anti-ship missiles and Anti-Submarine Rockets…”. First part, the well known Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM). It’s already in the Royal Navy, that is, with the Trafalgar-Class and the Astute-Class SSNs. But unlike the US Navy, the Royal Navy fires TLAMs via their torpedo tubes, not submarine VLS tubes or using Mk 41 VLS on their surface ships. It would mean buying the TLAM variant that can be fitted into a Mk 41 VLS tube, altering the costs complications. But ok,  it’s nice Fallon tells Stewart that the Type 26 will/may fire the TLAM. (Personally, I’m not a strong proponent of the Type 26 being a land-attack ship).

Second part, “to anti-ship missiles”. Ok, here it is not an exaggeration or a lie but just reiterating a “known-unknown” (I’m not a Rumsfeld supporter btw). No one knows what anti-surface warfare (ASuW) missile the Royal Navy will be getting. Ok, the fantasy fleet people think it’s going to be the US Nay’s next-generation Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) (see here). That’s fine, but the missile isn’t exactly out yet or even projected to be sold to the UK. Others suggest the future SPEAR III missile may be the future ASuW weapon. That supposedly can quad-pack into the Mk 41 so that would be 24×4=96 SPEAR III missiles if all the cells are filled (never the case). But again, SPEAR III isn’t out yet (though it is a UK project).

Third Part which could be an exaggeration of the Type 26’s capabilities or a real fact is the “and Anti-Submarine Rockets” part. This undoubtedly refers to the RUM-139 VL-ASROC or simply ASROC, the only possible rocket launcher with a torpedo in it. Now, that would be a wonderful weapon for the Type 26, especially the eight of them fitted with the Sonar 2087 sonar, the supposedly best kind of anti-submarine warfare (ASW) sonar around. ASROC however needs the torpedo to be effective. So far, the USN and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) use the Mk 46 or Mk 50 torpedo in their ASROCs. The Royal Navy’s Stingray torpedo has never known to be fitted on a ASROC type rocket, nor launched vertically. Again, costs come into play if this is a fact. Or an exaggeration?

There’s some more to be picked out of the Fallon-Stewart letter such as the Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon (Light) (FASGW (L)) missile. It will be called the Martlet. Other issues, well read the letter yourself.

To be expanded later.

CAMM: The saviour missile for the British Armed Forces

Everyone on the net for several years now has been talking about the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile or CAMM. It, along with its other support components, is also rather known as the Future Low-Altitude Air Defence System or FLAADS. For the Royal Navy, CAMM will be known as the Sea Ceptor missile (an easier name to remember than the two acronyms!), destined to be fitted on the present Type 23 Frigates and their successor Type 26 frigates (see the official MOD release). CAMM-L, L standing for “Land”, will be the replacement for the ageing or outdated Rapier missile system in the British Army (see the official MOD release).

So what are my views regarding this future missile/missile system? First, the sea version, the Sea Ceptor, is certainly many steps up from the Sea Wolf missile system currently on the Royal Navy’s Type 23s. The first advantage is that of range and altitude. Sea Wolf, a veteran of the Falkland War, has a maximum range of 10 km (the upgraded version) and a flight ceiling/altitude of 3050 m (or around 3000 m). In stark contrast, the MBDA brochure states that CAMM/Sea Ceptor has a range “in excess of 25 km” (let’s just keep it at 25 km). The maximum flight altitude is not stated (so far as I can search, if you know, inform me), but I would gather it should be just a bit shorter than MBDA’s existing Aster 15 missile, which are on the Type 45 Destroyers. (The Aster 15 has a range “in access of 30 km” and flight altitude of 13 km. So I would wager a guess that the Sea Ceptor missile would reach 10 km.)That of course means it might not reach high-altitude bombers/strike aircraft, especially since “Bear” bombers, “Backfire” bombers and others can fly at higher altitudes).

A second crucial advantage for this new missile is it size–99 kg, length of 3.2 m and diameter 0.16m. This means that it can be quad-packed on either the American Mk41 or European SYLVER Vertical Launch System. Now, this link says that from around 2015, the Type 23s will have a “1 for 1 replacement”–32 Sea Wolfs replacement by 32 Sea Ceptors in 8 cell VLS. That’s nice–that means a 8 cell VLS with more room to spare on the frigates.But a stronger advantage for a quad-packed cell means that CAMM can augment the anti-air missiles on board the six Type 45 destroyers. Type 45s currently have 48 ASTER 15 and ASTER missiles in SYLVER A50 0 VLS cells–the actual combination is never known (I would wage 30 ASTER 30s and 18 ASTER 15s, although defenseindustrydaily.com says otherwise.) The DID website recommends by quad-packing 12 SYLVER A50 cells, you can add 48 Sea Ceptor missiles, and have 36 ASTERS–20 ASTER 30s, and 16 ASTER 15. That would bring a total of 84 SAMs to bear in a single Type 45, making in close enough to say the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer or Ticonderoga-class cruisers. (No one can say exactly how many SM-2,3,6 missiles those USN ships carry, since thry also fill their VLS cells with ASROC and Tomahawk missiles).

I would go a bit more conservative and allocate only 8 of the 48 SYLVER A50 cells with Sea Ceptor, that is, a total of 32 Sea Ceptor missiles with 40 ASTER missiles of any combination (I would wager 25 ASTER 30s and 15 ASTER 15s, but then again the exact combination is never known. CAMM’s size then will (if the RN does ever quad-pack them on Type 45s) boost the firepowwer on the 6 most advance destroyers and leave the additional space behind the SYLVER A50 cells purely for ASuW missiles and/or land attack missiles. (This again is just a theory; it is up to the policy makers to decide. The additional space could well be more more Sea Viper/Sea Ceptor missiles, though that would leave the Type 45 again with just a gun.)

A third advantage of the CAMM (N)/Sea Ceptor missile/missile system is its secondary ability to “engage small naval craft”. In other terms, it is able to strike Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC) or in even more layman terms, it has a anti-ship missile attack/anti-surface warfare warefare capability. Now, first thing firsts. Even if the range of the Sea Ceptor is in excess of 25 km, I doubt it can strike surface targets that far away. I would wager say a maximum range of around 10 km. What ever the range, this ASuW capability will give the Type 45, 23 and 26s added ASuW capability. This is especially so for two of the Type 45s, as both of them will not gain the 4 quad-Harpoon launchers leftover from the Type 22s. It also means that all Type 45s gain an AAW/ASuW missile that was missing since the Sea Dart missile retired with the Type 42 Destroyers.

I believe that’s a quite a bit on the CAMM-N/Sea Ceptor. But CAMM’s creation is also crucial for the British Army, to replace their age old Rapier FSC missiles. The British Army’s 16th Regiment Royal Artillery is the main/sole operator of the Rapier missile. As this book suggests, 16th RA’s configuration is “four batteries each of two troops with three fire units per troop”. Each fire unit contains eight ready-to-fire missiles. The missile can strike targets at a maximum altitude of around 3,000m and a maximum range of 6,800m.(Also view this link). If we take the Sea Ceptor adverts range of 25 km to be around the same (land launched and ship launched missiles of the smae kind usually reach difference ranges), it will still mean a new missile with a range more than four times than of a Rapier’s. I would assume CAMM-L’s max altitude should be higher than the Rapier’s 6.8 km as well.

This link (and this) shows a mock up of 12 CAMM-L missiles in a launcher vehicle (name unknown). From the above, one Rapier battery will contain at least 48 Rapier missiles in the two troops, not counting reloads. If CAMM-L is 12 missiles per launcher unit, that would mean maybe two fire units per troop instead, create personnel reduction and thus benefits. Beyond this of course, having CAMM-L as a replacement for Rapier would mean much stronger protection of brigades/the Falklands/which every unit against not just aircraft but ballistic missiles and possibly even unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). If all turns out well, CAMM will arrive just as the Rapier bows out in 2020. Definitely one missile need by the British Army for quite a long time especially given the threat of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), airstrikes from manned aircraft and helicopters or even surface-to-surface missiles which as prevalent in “Eastern bloc” armed forces (9K720 Iskander, though I’m not finger pointing).

CAMM is also slated to be CAMM-A/CAMM (A), replacing or complementing the really good ASRAAM. This article will, however, not cover that area. First, there’s little talk about the aerial variant, and secondly, there’s nothing that spectacular since the ASRAAM is (as stated) a pretty good missile. Anyway, the Sea Ceptor variant and the CAMM-L (or whatever name the British Army will give the land variant) provides the British Armed Forces of the future with a missile that should create a potent Future Force (FF) 2020. The missiles characteristics is definitely what the Army and the Navy requires, regardless whether the number of assets (ships and land units) increase or decrease after defence reviews. A saviour for the Armed Forces…

PS I know, abrupt ending. Will edit and expand later.