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Despite his usual upbeat tone, the First Sea Lord recently admitted the RN still faces manpower challenges. Here we look at some of the serious on-going manpower issues and how they might be addressed. (In this context “manpower” is shorthand for a diverse mix of men and women).
The period 2010 – 2016 has been especially problematic for the RN because it has lost too many people and is unable to replace them fast enough. Various manpower crises have arisen throughout RN history but the 5,000 redundancies forced on the service in 2010 were the catalyst for the recent crisis. Until around 2014 the RN tried to conduct ‘business as usual’ but this exacerbated the problem by putting further pressure on already under-manned, under-sized fleet. There has now been an acknowledgment that things must change and restoring morale and manning levels is a stated priority. There have been many initiatives and attempts to put people before programmes, some well received, others not so. As an example, the number of ships alongside over the summer period in the last few years is a witness to the drive to give planned summer leave to as many as possible.
In 2017 the situation has stabilised a little since the peak of the crisis (2012-14), with people joining approximately matching the numbers leaving. However new recruits will need to significantly outnumber leavers in the near future if the RN is to get to the 30,450 ‘liability’ it is supposed to have in 2020. Today the service is 820 people short of its current liability (30,320), 2.7% understrength. Almost half of the shortfall is amongst vitally important engineering personnel. The RN is 100 engineer officers and 300 engineering ratings short of what it is supposed to have. (This raises an interesting question about what would happen to RN finances if manpower was up to full strength. The money saved by running understrength is clearly significant and helping keep a very stretched budget in balance.) The issue is not just about numbers but about the loss of experience and skilled people that take years to accumulate and which no amount of new recruits are a substitute for.
The ship’s company of HMS Queen Elizabeth was originally specified as a rather miraculous 690 but, even before sea trials had begun, it had risen to 730. It is very likely that operational experience will demand further increases. The RN has prioritised the manning of both carriers above the rest of the surface fleet and, for now at least, both ships have all the people they need. Even if the RN’s modest target strength of 30,450 could be met, the manpower needs of the carriers will continue to put considerable pressure on the rest of the fleet for at least the next 4-5 years. That 2 of the RN’s 19 surface escorts are permanently confined to harbour (currently HMS Daring and HMS Portland) because of lack of manpower is a testament to how serious the problem has become. 2 more minehunters are also going to be cut from the fleet sometime before 2025 to save money and release manpower.
In 2016 the RN conducted a super-lean manning trial with a Type 45 destroyer, cutting numbers right down to just the people needed to keep the ship fighting and operational. The ship was taken through a specially-adapted Operational Sea Training period which the ship passed successfully. It was hard on the crew, being run ragged, everyone performing 4 or 5 different roles. This setup proved the ship could conduct routine operations for short spells in UK waters configured this way, although completely unworkable for overseas deployments or demanding operations. This kind of initiative is sensible in the circumstances but a palliative that will not cure the problem or strengthen the fleet.
Assuming no one is impertinent enough to demand a bigger RN than is planned now, there could be some relief on the distant horizon. By the mid-late 2020s the new Type 26 and Type 31 frigates will have a considerably lower manpower requirement than the today’s Type 23s. In the long term, the trend toward greater automation, more unmanned systems, or even unmanned ships, points to a reducing manpower demand.
For now it is pretty much a given that before even discussing any real expansion of the fleet, a significant growth in personnel numbers would have to come first.
For the average 16-18 years old the Navy is still offers an attractive and exciting prospect and applications to join are reasonably buoyant. 13,888 applications were received between June 2016-17. In the same period 2,884 people were accepted and began training with the RN. Even if more money were thrown at recruitment, a large new intake would present problems. The waiting list from application to beginning initial training at HMS Raleigh currently varies between 12 – 18 months. There is not the spare capacity in the training pipeline. New facilities at Raleigh would be needed and experienced people would have to be withdrawn from the fleet in order to train greater numbers. There would also be an issue around how a big surge of raw trainees could be absorbed into the fleet.
The RN operates a single point of entry where everyone must enter at the most junior level and work their way up over time. This practice has obvious great advantages but is enormously restrictive when you are short of more mature or qualified people. In most other industries people are free to move sidewise in and out of different organisations at different levels of seniority. The RN has made some attempts to offer sideways entry to some trades such as engineers but could it be time to radically overhaul the entire entry system? Parachuting in 25-35-year-olds straight from civilian life to be POs or CPOs would certainly be a challenge for all!
There is perhaps a slightly misplaced faith among senior officers that the new generation of ships and exciting new equipment will help with recruitment and retention. The arrive of HMS Queen Elizabeth has certainly helped raise the RN’s profile and the opportunity to work with the latest technology may prove an initial draw and is a source of job satisfaction for some. However it is the amount of time away from family and friends, the balance between long dull days and exciting foreign trips, together with pay and general conditions that are much more likely the decisive factors on when deciding to join or leave.
Anecdotally we have also heard plenty of examples of experienced people who were let go too easily. For the sake of small compromises, the RN has lost valuable people who will cost thousands of pounds and many years to replace. (especially the technically qualified ‘gold dust’ senior rates) There are also former personnel willing to rejoin who are refused on apparently minor or unexplained grounds. Individual cases are hard to verify but perhaps in desperate times, there needs to be more flexibility and application of a less rigid rulebook. The first sign of thinking along these lines is the “Street to Fleet” initiative by which the RN hopes to attract up to 1000 former naval personnel back into uniform.
Old salts who complain that the delicate young ’snowflakes’ of today are ‘too soft and should just toughen up’ are not helping and should recognise there is still a significant core of fine young people serving today with dedication. It may be fair to say that a bigger proportion of younger people have higher material expectations and are less used to physical or psychological hardship than before but naval training can overcome this in many cases. Because of World War II and conscription, previous generations were more likely to have a link to the forces, probably there was an older relative in the family who had served. Together with a general sea-blindness, this link to the Navy is dying out and patriotism and sacrificial service to your country is seen as an anachronism or not even considered by a large section of young people.
Older people may find it hard to understand what a big deal internet connectivity is for young people who have grown up in an era of Snapchat and WhatsApp. Although some may scoff, it is not unusual for young people even report serious anxiety when separated from their phone. The average 18 year old joining the RN has have never known life without instant connectivity. If you are used to conducting much of your social interaction in almost real-time online, then it is a big shock to discover you are suddenly cut off from this and may even be a factor in the rejection of a service career. Although OPSEC must always come first, it is a complex and difficult issue that the RN is making some attempt to address. There has been email access at sea for many years but this is quite different from the on-demand access to everything using the phone in your pocket. Some ships have on-board wi-fi providing some limited availability. (Submariners will still have to accept long periods with virtually zero connectivity). There was a recent case of an RN warship operating in sensitive waters and was overflown by a foreign military aircraft. A young sailor onboard photographed the aircraft and put the photo on Facebook. An obvious and stupid breach of OPSEC that was quickly picked up by RN monitoring teams. This sort of incident demonstrates the pitfalls of providing internet access to personnel at sea.
The RN devotes enormous, possibly excessive, effort to present its credentials as an equal opportunities employer with a diversity agenda. Of course, everyone deserves a fair chance, but by its nature, appealing to minority groups is not expanding the recruitment pool by much. The majority of effort needs to be focused on the mainstream, particularly reaching and engaging with schools and further education colleges and with young people interested in technology and engineering.
When there are so many comfortable and attractive and potentially better-paid alternatives ashore, it is no longer good enough to say “tough luck, that’s life in a blue suit”. Many have, and will vote with their feet and leave. The RN has always had to adapt to the expectations of each generation and this can be seen in the vastly improved accommodation on modern warships. This may help a little but it is the terms of service and daily experience of sailors that really counts.
The 1% cap on pay rises has caused income for everyone in the public sector to fall in real terms by about 3% in the past 10 years. The government is under growing pressure to lift this cap, some public sector workers will shout more loudly than others but the forces must remain silent and have no union or collective voice beyond Whitehall. The long-suffering forces clearly deserve to be somewhere near the front of any pay rise queue. Even a small rise beyond the annual 1% would have a big impact on MoD finances at a time when there are already huge funding gaps. Without specific additional funds from the Treasury, pay rises might have to be accompanied by equipment and capability cuts. Some argue that there has been too much emphasis by the service chiefs on new equipment at the expense of operations, training and overall morale, and perhaps priorities should change anyway.
Pay levels are not the primary reason for the RN’s retention problems but it is an ever-growing factor. Just 33% of personnel now say they are satisfied with pay and benefits and this figure is going down even year. Pensions have historically been cited in the top five reasons for people staying. The reduced value of pensions has removed this incentive for people to extend their service, making it less likely the valuable experienced people will not extend their engagement to a long career.
Despite the efforts to put people before programmes, the proportion of Royal Navy personnel spending more than four months away in a year has increased from 49% in 2016 to 56% in 2017. There has also been an increase in ratings not able to take their leave due to workload and undermanning. This is significant because by far the biggest reason given for leaving is “impact of service life on family and personal life”. More than a quarter of RN personnel (27%) say they intend to leave before the end of their current engagement or commission. The 2017 UK Regular Armed Forces Continuous Attitude Survey makes for mostly grim reading and does not point to a dramatic improvement in overall morale or retention rates in the near future.
It’s a conundrum that even Nelson would have recognised, the challenge is to improve sailors morale while at the same time delivering a disciplined and effective navy.
It is not our place to dictate to the RN exactly how to manage its people. The RN has already made considerable efforts to put its people first. However, there is very strong anecdotal and primary evidence of dissatisfaction with management practices that could easily be addressed. Some of the complaints may be as old as time itself and the familiar tensions between all bosses and workers in the workplace, but there are some reasonable grievances. Should senior leaders be telling officers that keeping sailors happy and creating the conditions that lead them to stay in the service must be treated as far greater priority? Is this possible while delivering an effective navy that meets “the command aim”? It is often quite small issues, information, appreciation, flexibility – that would not cost vast sums or impact on ship’s programmes that may make a big difference. Maybe there are unpopular but traditional routines, practices or duties that could be dispensed without letting fighting efficiency slip?
Officers come down to ask the lads how things are going and tell us to be honest about problems. But yet we get told beforehand not to complain about anything when we do it is utterly frowned upon. If something’s wrong, you can’t complain”
“Another, major issue that damages morale is lack of funds for the small things. Everyone accepts we need to save money but the whole system just lacks common sense! Letting the lads off for an occasional day just for a bit of R&R or to go to the gym or travel to other places would help. Nowadays, every tiny bit of leave needs to be accounted for on JPA, every half a mile traveled has to be accounted for. Daft things like if you travel from base to base, you’re entitled to a food allowance but if you’re traveling to play sport representing the ship it’s out of your own pocket. It’s a battle to get everything, from basics like pillows and curtains to proper cleaning gear, to bigger items the ship needs like weapon kits”
“those that do dip in.. and the ones who get to do the things the navy should do, live the best life ever. The runs ashore, the dits, the work, utterly incredible. I know lots of lads who adore the navy, and will stay in. The good times far out way the bad times. More thought could be given to making sure everyone gets good experiences and exciting overseas deployments. Life in the navy can be so so good, but there needs to be more consideration.”
‘Jack’, a rating currently serving in the surface fleet
from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/sustaining-royal-navy-manpower-the-greatest-challenge/
An extreme staffing shortage is affecting both Portree Hospital and Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital in Broadford. This shortage has compelled these Skye’s two hospitals to take drastic measures to try and deal with the problem. The catering staff at Portree Hospital has been moved temporarily to the Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital to provide cover. According to report from the nursing board the nursing staff at the Portree Hospital has accepted to reheat and serve food to the patient at the MacKinnon Hospital. The fact that nurses are cooking meals for the patients in the two hospitals on the island clearly shows how serious this problem is.
Another incident that shows how acute this shortage has affected the two hospitals is that two tourists were unable to get treatment at the Portree Hospital on Wednesday evening after they took their sick child there. The main reason that prevented the tourists from getting served is that the hospital had temporarily suspended out-of hours care because of staff shortages. This family was forced to travel 25.6 miles (41.2km) away in Broadford. The NHS Highland has taken time to apologise for the inconveniences caused by the suspension and has promised that the Portree services would be returning to normal on Thursday. The health board further said that staffing the two hospitals on the island has been very challenging.
The main reason why some nurses had to move MacKinnon is that this particular hospital has more patients. This was confirmed by a spokesman for NHS who said the board has to make a decision to move some of the nurses. Catering at MacKinnon had become a major challenge and therefore the nurses offered to support the catering section so that the patients can get to eat. The nurses are not doing full meal preparation; instead they are just reheating and serving the food to the patients. The fact that Portree Hospital has suspended the out-of-hour services has been criticised by different people including the local politicians. The board confirmed the shortage of staff has compelled the hospital to close provision of emergency medical services at 18:00 on Tuesday.
NHS Highland had also suspended new admissions at the Portree Hospital a month ago because of staff shortage. Earlier this week, Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch SNP MSP Kate Forbes termed the out-of-hours situation as unacceptable. Ronald MacDonald who is the Skye’s councilor had also criticised NHS Highland for failing to have a cover plan for Portree Hospital. It is expected that Mr. MacDonald and Margaret Davidson who is the Highland Council leader will next week meet Shona Robisnon who is the health secretary to raise their concerns regarding the hospital services on Skye.
The post Staff Shortage Is Forcing Nurses To Cook Meals For The Patients appeared first on RNMS Stretcher Carry.
from RNMS Stretcher Carry http://www.rnmsstretchercarry.org.uk/staff-shortage-forcing-nurses-cook-meals-patients/
There has been considerable criticism of the UK’s response to provide aid to the British territories in the Caribbean after being hit by the most severe hurricane in a generation. This is entirely unfair. Naval assets were already pre-positioned in the region for just such an eventuality and are now part of a considerable tri-service effort by the UK armed forces and other agencies.
The ever-sensible Thin Pinstriped Line Blog has brilliantly deflated much of whining about the UK ‘not doing enough’ and Sir Humphrey’s excellent 2-part analysis of the actual response can be read here and here. The British aid effort in the Caribbean has been outstanding, given the resources available. Highlighting this is not some Tory conspiracy to make the government and MoD look good. Every credible independent defence source is saying the same.
The UK armed forces and the RN, in particular, are well trained, well prepared and have a proven track record of responding to natural disasters all over the world. Since 2010 the RN has participated in several significant HADR (Humanitarian Assistance & Disaster Relief) operations; Hatai Earthquake (2010), Relief work in wake of Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines (Operation Pawtin 2013), Ebola disease containment, Sierra Leone (Operation Gritrock, 2015), Migrant rescue, Mediterranean (Operation Weald, 2015).
The RN has maintained a presence in the Caribbean in support of British interests, almost continuously since the second World War. The number of ships stationed in the West Indies has declined in proportion to size of the navy. Despite the shortage of available vessels, the Naval Service has still managed to maintain this commitment, officially known as Atlantic Patrol – North (APT(N)) right up till now. These vessels are a sign of tangible government support for the region and in case of disaster, are ideal on-scene first-responders. In recent years APT(N) has unusually been undertaken by a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship although the much smaller OPVs HMS Severn and HMS Mersey were sent in 2015 and 2016 respectively. Ships on this task conduct counter-narcotics patrols and provide welcome reassurance to UK territories. They regularly plan and exercise disaster relief work with local officials in an area notorious for its hurricanes.
RFA Mounts Bay arrived in the area in July 2017, replacing RFA Wave Knight. Of all the ships available for disaster relief, RFA Mounts Bay is especially well suited to the role. With a helicopter and a floodable dock, she can unload heavy stores directly onto the beach using her Mexflote (A modular self-propelled raft that is lashed to the side of the ship when underway).
The UK military response has now been designated “Operation RUMAN”. On 7th September it was decided that HMS Ocean would be re-assigned from leading Standing NATO maritime Group 1 in the Mediterranean to join RUMAN. She arrives in Gibraltar today for a 24-hour stopover to embark stores and more helicopters. HMS Ocean, not known for her great speed, will have to cross the Atlantic and is unlikely to arrive in the Carribean before 22nd September. Her aircraft and stores will provide a much greater impact than RFA Mounts Bay but underlines how useful it is to have a ship already in the region. Ocean’s role is more likely to be focused on helping in the reconstruction efforts after the hurricanes have passed.
from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-royal-navys-part-in-the-uk-response-to-hurricane-irma/
HMS Prince of Wales was officially named today during a ceremony in Rosyth, Scotland. The ship’s sponsor, Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Rothesay, followed Royal Navy tradition by triggering the release of a bottle of 10-year-old whiskey to smash against the ship’s hull. It’s been a busy summer for the RN. In August HMS Queen Elizabeth arrived in Portsmouth for the first time. Less than a month later it is time to mark another major milestone for the aircraft carrier programme.
HMS PoW was structurally complete in July 2016 but the complex work of fitting out and systems integration is still in its early stages. The ship will be floated out of dry dock in early 2018 and be berthed in the same position where HMS Queen Elizabeth was completed. HMS QE was in effect a prototype vessel so progress on the second ship is already ahead of schedule which has been built around 20% faster, thanks to the lessons learned. This includes improvement to the application of its heat-resistant flight deck Thermal Metalic Spray (TMS) paint and installing an improved F-35 landing light systems earlier in the build process. There have also been adjustments to construction practice. To save time coming on and off the ship, contractors now use the ship itself as their offices, using the hangar and other large available spaces to hold meetings and keep stocks of materials. Although it is described as “an aggressive timeline” there is confidence HMS PoW will go to sea in the Summer of 2019, building on the success of HMS QE’s initial trials.
HMS PoW is having some internal modifications so she can perform in the LPH (assault ship / littoral maneuver) role. These modifications are modest and include changing to some access routes, accommodation and storage arrangements for the embarked military force and their kit. She will be able to comfortably accommodate 2 companies of Marines (around 500 men) and it is intended she will declare LPH full operating capability sometime in 2023. The 4.5 acre flight deck will allow HMS PoW to simultaneously launch up to 14 helicopters in a single wave when she is operating in the LPH role. Although using these ships in the LPH role far from ideal, this space gives them a great advantage over HMS Ocean. HMS QE will be modified like her sister during her first major refit, probably in 2026, so both ships will then have full LPH capability.
The QEC are not designed to operate landing craft. They will carry 3 passenger transport boats (PTBs) launched from bays on the sponsons on 4 deck. The PTBs are intended for ferrying crew and visitors to and from the ship when anchored offshore and are not intended for use in the assault role. Four PTBs have been ordered from Alnmaritec for HMS QE, two named Swordfish and Buccaneer have been already been delivered. HMS PoW will instead receive three workboats of the SEA class, part of the recent order for 30 workboats placed with Atlas Elektronik.
It is now clear the RN is aiming to maintain continuous carrier capability. Initially, manpower concerns had made this seem unlikely but manning the carriers has been prioritised, even at the expense of the rest of the fleet. The intention is that one aircraft carrier will be at 5 days notice to deploy (Very High Readiness). When configured for the LPH role they will be expected to be at 30 days notice to deploy (High Readiness). Theoretically, it may be possible for both carriers to be deployed with one in strike role and one in LPH role. Maintenance periods and refits will obviously mean that for long periods only one carrier will be available.
HMS Queen Elizabeth should sail for the second phase of her sea trials in October and will formally commission in December. She will sail for heavy weather trials in the North Atlantic in the first quarter of 2018. During this time she will also focus on rotary-wing certification and trials with embarked Wildcats, Merlin Mk2s, Merlin HC4s, Army Air Corps Apache and RAF Chinooks. HMS QE will not be fully capable in the LPH role for several years but she will routinely embark Royal Marines of the Special Purpose Task Group. The SPTG was established in December 2015, its prime role is to rescue downed aircrew and destroy or recover sensitive equipment such as F-35 parts. However, the SPTG is a multi-purpose formation that can be used to support other special forces operations or conduct raids ashore,
HMS QE will be back alongside for a further planned “defect rectification and capability insertion” period in mid-2018. The main work will be adding equipment to support F-35 operations such as the Instrument Carrier Landing System (ICLS) and set up the ALIS F-35 aircraft maintenance system. In the later part of 2018 HMS QE will sail with HMS Montrose as her escort to the East Coast of the US. She will embark Royal Marines who will be flown ashore to exercise with the US Marine Corps. Off the Eastern Seaboard of the US, the first F-35Bs will land on HMS QE to begin flying trials. Two specially instrumented “orange-wired” F-35B test aircraft and four pilots will be aboard for 8 weeks of trials and evaluation. Short Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) will be practiced for the first time outside a simulator. This complex manoeuvre will allow the aircraft to return safely to the ship with a weight of unused weapons or fuel. The technique is controversial, many F-35 naysayers expect it to prove unworkable.
As something we can all look forward to, respected film-maker Chris Terrill has been embarked aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth during her sea trials and his 3-part documentary Royal Navy: Carrier Strike will be shown on BBC 2 in January 2018.
Babcock International has just revealed their concept for the Type 31e Frigate competition. Arrowhead is the latest design to emerge from a British naval design house and will be formally unveiled at DSEI next week.
Babcock describes the design as a “cost-effective general purpose frigate designed with flexibility and adaptability at its core to meet the needs of modern navies worldwide”. Arrowhead 120 is a conventional approach and is very similar to the Spartan concept released by Steller Systems in November 2016. The key similarities are a stern ramp for boat and USV deployment and reconfigurable mission and payload bays. Both would be propelled by a Diesel-Electric CODLAD arrangement.
Babcock’s potential advantage over the BMT Venator and Stellar Systems Spartan is that they are not just a design house and have their own shipyards and a track record of ship building and repair for the Royal Navy. As with all of these concepts, it is difficult to assess their individual merit as most of the equipment fit is not defined and can be selected by the customer. It would appear that Arrowhead would meet the broad specification defined by the RN announced yesterday. Whichever concept is selected, there would be considerable work to be done to select the best weapons and equipment available within the £250M price limit. The detailed design work would need to be completed by 2019 when first steel must be cut.
At an event held in London for industry today, Defence Procurement Minister Harriett Baldwin launched plans for the procurement of the Royal Navy’s new Type 31e frigates – a day after the announcement of a new National Shipbuilding Strategy. The competition was unveiled by senior leaders from the Ministry of Defence, Royal Navy and Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S).
The image above shows the key requirements for the vessel. Government is taking a very optimistic view. Harriet Baldwin commented, “It will take the very best of British engineering, innovation and drive to achieve it… this programme will re-energise a world-leading, vibrant and competitive British shipbuilding industry.”
We look forward to seeing how this project progresses and whether it proves to be the route to a stronger Royal Navy or the unwanted child of austerity.
After much delay, the Defence Secretary today outlined the National Shipbuilding Strategy, specifically the intention to build at least 5 Type 31e frigates for the Royal Navy.
Construction of the ships will be shared between shipyards around the UK with assembly at a central hub. This is a potential boost to several smaller yards in the UK that are already seeing a modest revival in commercial shipbuilding. Block building the QEC aircraft carriers made sense because a single yard was unable to take on such a large project. Unfortunately sharing construction of a small frigate between several yards may actually add to costs and be less efficient. The Type 26 Frigates are being constructed by one company in 2 yards, close together in Glasgow. Already local media and politicians with interest in yards around the UK are speculating about their involvement. Cammel Laid (Birkenhead), Babcock (Appledore and Devonport), Ferguson (Port Glasgow), Harland & Wolff (Belfast), A&P (Tyne) are all looking for a possible share in this modest programme.
It is unclear where the main assembly site for these ships would be. Some suggest that the Babcock site in Rosyth would be well suited to this work when HMS Prince of Wales is completed. In Scotland, there is still anger amongst unions that the they had been promised all 13 frigates, not just the 8 Type 26 Frigates. This is somewhat excessive as the Clyde has a fat order book of OPVs and frigates and a very secure future.
The intention has always been that Type 31e should be designed with the export market in mind. If Britain was able to break back into the frigate export market, from which it has been absent for almost 30 years, this would a huge benefit to the RN and the economy as a whole. To fulfill Sir John’s vision of economies of scale will require far building more than 5 ships, the project needs to attract foreign interest quickly.
A price cap of £250 million has been placed on each ship. Considering a Type 26 is priced at more than £800 million, this is a very ambitious target. Other Europen nations who have produced frigates at comparable cost but this would represent a very aggressive reversal of UK warship cost trends. The timescale is also exceptionally demanding and calls for the first ship to be at sea by 2023. If the first steel needs to be cut by the end of 2018 then the design will have to be rapidly matured. Of the available concepts, this time pressure gives the BAES’ Cutlass and the BMT’s Venator a slight advantage, being more mature than the Steller Systems’ Spartan or the, soon to be announced, Babcock Arrowhead.
BAES have so far been ambivalent about involvement in Type 31 saying it could potentially be “a race to the bottom”. The project is effectively a challenge to their monopoly and they cannot be expected to be overjoyed. Babcock, with yards in Appldore, Devonport and Rosyth is BAES closet competitor in this market. Type 31 may give Babcock an oppotunity to offer future comptition to BAES which would be very good news for the taxtpayer.
The block-built £150 million polar research ship, RRS David Attenborough, being built at Cammell Laird offers a little hope that yards are becoming more competitive. Apart from Backbock Appledore building OPVs for the Irish Navy, no one other than BAE Systems has constructed a warship in Britain for a generation. Building steel blocks for ships is not especially complicated, it is the integration of very complex and high-specification systems that separate the warship builder from the commercial builder. How much of this specialist expertise is available outside BAESs is unclear.
How the Type 31 programme will be funded has not been discussed yet. Sir John Parker has argued the project should be ring fenced with the money earmarked in advance but this has always looked unlikely as it would set a very unwelcome precedent for the Treasury. Although in cash terms the Defence budget slowly rising, there is still a £20Bn gap between commitments in the equipment programme and available funds. Tory politicians refuse to admit it, perhaps knowing it is their successor that will have to deal with the consequences, but there will be further cuts to UK defence somewhere soon.
From the RN’s point of view, there is great hope that the Type 31 project can deliver. It is right that someone has finally said “enough is enough” to the ballooning cost of new warships. Diversifying the suppliers of warships has got to be a good thing and offers the opportunity to strengthen industry, manufacturing and skills base across the country. Whether a credible warship for the 2030s and 2040s can be delivered at this price, in this time frame remains to be seen.