On New Years Day the Ministry of Defence stated “2017 is the Year of the Navy”. The Defence Secretary said “2017 is the start of a new era of maritime power, projecting Britain’s influence globally and delivering security at home.” There is no doubt that there will be some very significant milestones in the programme to deliver new equipment to the RN and there are many reasons to be positive. But this is just one side of the story. While it is very heartening to see new vessels arrive, this must be seen in context of the size and strength of the fleet as a whole.
Delivery of new kit is exciting but it should not distract attention on what is happening on the frontline at present and in the next couple of years. While the headlines are all about new equipment, the relentless demands on the RN continue and the MoD noted that 2017 will “follow one of their busiest years since the end of the Cold War”. At the peak of activity in 2016, the Naval Service was involved in 22 operations at home and abroad with 8,325 of 29,500 personnel (28%) actively deployed.
On this evidence, perhaps it should be argued that every year is ‘the year of the navy’ as the service is clearly flat out, continuously contributing the security of the UK.
We do not want to dim the excitement about the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth which will make a bold statement to the world (and be of some relevance to Brexit negations). The carriers have huge potential and, although controversial and subject of great mis-information, are the right choice for the RN. Unfortunately it will be 2023 before HMS Queen Elizabeth achieves full operating capability with her F-35B fixed wing aircraft. Ever since the orders for the aircraft carriers was secured back in 2007, successive ministers have used them as evidence of their ‘support for the navy’ while their size and profile provided a convenient smokescreen to hide damaging cuts and procurement mistakes elsewhere. There is a major re-equipment program underway but in almost every case the project is delivering late either leaving a complete capability gap or the RN making do with ageing assets. Most significantly, in general the new equipment replaces old equipment with a fewer number of units.
2017 will not actually see the RN gain a great deal in the way of operational capability.
Of the 9 major items listed by the MoD, almost all are some years away from fully operational status. Assuming we make it without facing a serious global conflict, then the RN can look forward to a real step-change in capability sometime in the mid 2020s. In a previous post (that provoked a huge response) we assertively laid out some of the problems and capability gaps facing the RN that need to be urgently addressed. We will not repeat them here but will provide some context to the major milestones of 2017 listed by the MoD .
HMS Queen Elizabeth, will sail from Rosyth, ready to conduct sea trials in summer and debut in Portsmouth later in the year
We certainly look forward to the arrival of HMS Queen Elizabeth which will represent a huge design and industrial achievement as well as a boost for a Navy that has endured so much bad news. It will be at least a further 5 years before she achieves full combat capability.
HMS Prince of Wales will enter the water for the first time in the summer as work on her continues and is due to be formally named in the autumn
David Cameron’s decision to keep both aircraft carriers will prove to be one of his few good decisions on defence issues…
Design and manufacture will begin on the multi-million pound Crowsnest, the early-warning ‘eyes in the sky’ system for the helicopters that will protect the new carriers
A programme that has been advanced slightly to ensure this capability is ready just in time for HMS Queen Elizabeth becoming operational. Some commentators dismiss helicopter-based AEW but, although not as capable as fixed-wing Hawkeye, this system has served the RN pretty well since 1982.
In the summer, steel will be cut on the first of eight Type 26 frigates in Glasgow
Construction should really have begun about 5 years ago and we must fervently hope that it can deliver the ships without technical problems or delays. Whether the gamble on cutting the order from 13 to 8 ships can pay off, will be determined by the success of the parallel “cheaper” Type 31 frigate program.
The first of four Tide-class tankers, RFA Tidespring – crucial for supporting the new aircraft carriers – will arrive from South Korea in the spring to undergo UK customisation work
No mention by the MoD that RFA Tidespring delivery has been delayed by a year due to faulty electrical cable installation. Despite this unfortunate issue, these four large ships should prove to be great value for money. They are desperately needed to replace ancient or already decommissioned ships.
In the spring, the first of the Navy’s five next-generation patrol ships, HMS Forth will begin her sea trials
These ships are really a job creation scheme to keep workers on the Clyde employed until the delayed Type 26 frigate project begins. They are only a very marginal improvement on the ships they will replace. There would be some reason to be excited if the four relatively new existing OPVs were being retained so the RN could actually grow it fleet slightly, but this is not the current plan.
The fourth Astute Class submarine HMS Audacious will enter the water for its commissioning phase in spring
The Astute class are probably the best hunter-killer submarines in the world. Unfortunately we will only have 7 of them. HMS Torbay will decommission in 2017 and we will be down to just 6 boats until HMS Audacious is operational in late 2018.
The keel for the seventh and final Astute-class submarine – as yet unnamed – will be laid in 2017 as work continues apace on the fifth and sixth, HMS Anson and HMS Agamemnon in Barrow
The latter part of the Astute submarine programme is now in its stride and delivering boats on schedule and on budget. Hopefully some lessons have been learned during the lost decade and more than £1Bn wasted in the early part of the programme.
The opening of the first permanent Royal Navy base East of Suez in nearly half a century
Construction of HMS Juffair has been funded by the Bahraini government will be a welcome improvement in accommodation and support for RN personnel and vessels deployed to the Middle East. It is sign of a sensible UK strategic commitment to the region but Bahrain’s poor human rights record will make the new base a focus for controversy.
- 2017 is the Year of the Navy (Ministry of Defence)
from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/will-2017-be-the-year-of-the-royal-navy/