One step forward, two steps back – delivering the Royal Navy’s new OPVs

As we reported in April, significant defects have been found aboard HMS Forth which was delivered to the RN in February. Initial assessments were that the problems would be remedied in a couple of weeks but this has not proved to be the case.

HMS Forth’s defects list has not expanded beyond what was originally reported; sheared bolt heads, failed marine fixings and the electrical system. However, the investigation and agreeing on the rectifications by all parties took much longer to complete than initially expected.

The ship has not been “handed back” to BAE Systems and remains a commissioned RN warship. However, that is really a technicality because, as is standard practice during deep maintenance, the contractor has taken over over care and protection of the vessel with no RN personnel living on board. After the delay caused by the investigation and scoping, there are now are teams of contractors working on board the ship to correct the problems. HMS Forth will definitely not require dry-docking for this work as the issues are all internal and not related to propulsion, steering or the hull. The date the work will be completed is unknown at this stage but sources can only say “well before the end of this year”. The ship is effectively under warranty and BAES are meeting all costs for this work.

HMS Forth is due to replace HMS Clyde as the Falkland Patrol ship. The delays to HMS Forth commencing work up and FOST will have the knock-on effect of extending HMS Clyde’s time in service. The RN is down to just one active OPV in UK waters right now and there is some speculation HMS Tyne could be re-activated. The RN is performing a delicate juggling act rotating crews between OPVs and MCMVs under Project Jicara. HMS Tyne’s crew joined HMS Forth in March 2017 and she was then manned until decommissioning by a crew loaned from the 2nd Minehunting Squadron. They then moved to HMS Mersey so her crew could join HMS Trent in build in Glasgow. There is no spare crew available for HMS Tyne so it is unlikely the RN will reactivate her in the near future.

HMS Tyne was formally decommissioned on 24 May and, along with HMS Severn already decommissioned, and HMS Mersey, due to decommission in 2019, will be preserved alongside. This has been funded by a £12.7M allocation from the EU Exit Preparedness Fund, should the ships be required to patrol UK waters following Brexit. Unfortunately, the RN does not have the people to crew these vessels while at the same time providing manpower for the new Batch IIs. Reactivating the Batch Is would require innovative alternative manning arrangements.

BAE Systems has sensibly initiated inspections of the next 2 OPVs, Medway and Trent, currently under construction to ensure these issues are dealt with before the ships are handed over to the RN. This inspection is ongoing and rectifications being completed where necessary. So far only one sheared and glued bolt head has been discovered on Medway. Medway was named two months earlier in her schedule than Forth so their schedules do not compare. Medway is due to go on sea trials later this summer and the MOD and working with BAES to agree on the schedule for the remaining ships to come into service.

The RN’s relationship with BAE Sytems, its monopoly warship supplier is akin to an arranged and essentially loveless marriage. With absolutely no prospect of divorce, there is little choice but to live with reduced expectations and make the best of the situation, focusing on the positive aspects. (Some serious flirting with Babcock has not yet developed into a full-blown affair.) BAES have been embarrassed by this episode, the OPVs are, after all, relatively simple vessels and have proved a very expensive way of sustaining Clyde shipbuilding. The company has taken it very seriously and is working very hard to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

More positive news is the very strong indications that the BAES Type 26 (GCS-A) design is going to win the SEA5000 Australian frigate competition, an announcement is expected by the end of next week. This would be the first major UK warship export success in more than 2 decades and will be of far greater significance than relatively minor issues with the OPVs.



from Save the Royal Navy


Astute Class Submarine Owners Workshop Manual – Book Review

£14.69 (Hardback)

Astute Class Nuclear Submarine – Owners Workshop Manual is the third in a trio of engrossing submarine-themed books published in 2018. Using the well established Haynes technical manual format, Jonathan Gates has written a detailed and comprehensive guide that explains the design, construction and operation of the RN’s newest submarines.

Those without at least a basic understanding of submarine design will find this book a steep, if fascinating learning curve. This is many orders of complexity above the average Haynes manual that might typically describe how to service a Ford Escort and is an amusing way to frame such a subject. Of course, a complete technical manual and the blueprints for the Astute class and its equipment would be highly classified and run into thousands of pages.

This book follows on from the similar Haynes Type 45 Destroyer Manual that Gates published in 2014. In both cases, the author has done a very good job of explaining some demanding technical subjects in a way that can be understood. Lavishly illustrated with a good selection of photographs, the diagrams are consistent and easy to read throughout, this is another triumph for Haynes’ graphic designers.

Cutaway of Astute class submarine

An example of the superb anotated diagrams used throughout the book

The first chapter outlines the painful birth and beginnings of the Astute project, a victim of political, financial and corporate pressures that took many years to recover from. The next chapter describes the challenges of construction followed by a lengthy section describing the nuts and bolts anatomy of the boat and its many sub-systems. Also included is possibly the best description of the principles and components of a nuclear power and propulsion system available to the layman. The combat systems and weapons are covered in some detail with a glimpse into how the boat may conduct operations. There is also a good introduction to the basics of ocean acoustics and deep water anti-submarine warfare.

At first glance the depth of technical information is astonishing and if content with the same level of detail published in this book was posted on a website or social media, there would probably be accusations of breaching operational security or revealing state secrets. Knowing his subject so well, Gates is clearly well aware of what technical and scientific information is already in the public domain and within the classification boundaries. The book was written with assistance from BAE Systems and the MoD and care has been taken not to reveal the many deeper secrets of the Astutes. The use of broad stroke schematics and the absence of precise specifications allows the reader to understand how things work without revealing their specific performance or full capability.

The book also brings home the scale of the engineering challenge posed by nuclear submarine construction. The boat must be able to safely float, submerge, move, navigate, fight and communicate while being home to its crew for several months. To do this requires a system of systems, many with emergency backups and redundancy. All this technology must be constructed and contained within the confines of a steel tube capable of withstanding the enormous pressures experienced deep underwater. The very ambitious performance specification laid down for the Astute’s helps explain the SSN’s £1billion+ price tag and why the project has faced so many difficulties and delays.

Despite the expense and challenges of bringing these submarines into service, it has been very well worth the journey. In his closing remarks the author provides this upbeat assessment of their capability: “Studies of future operations have suggested the Astute will be able to evolve to fulfil its roles for the foreseeable future, a testament to her enduring utility and flexibility. Future strategic challenges will predicate a greater requirement for Astute’s inherent qualities known as the ‘seven deadly virtues’ – of flexibility, mobility, endurance, reach, autonomy, stealth and punch”

For anyone interested in submarines and wishing to take a deeper dive into understanding their technicalities, this book is a must-read. There is also a broader appeal beyond just the naval aspect for those who want to explore the story of a 21st Century engineering project at the cutting edge of technology.

£14.69 (Hardback)

from Save the Royal Navy

Scottish nationalism continues to cast a shadow over the Royal Navy

At the SNP conference last weekend, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon insisted she was “more certain than ever before” of achieving her dream of Scottish Independence. For now she urged members to focus on “winning the argument” rather than pushing too soon for another vote. Here we look at how Nicola’s ‘dream’ would actually be a nightmare for UK security as a whole. The RN would arguably be the single British institution to suffer most, with both its main submarine base and shipyards under threat.

Theresa May has blocked another referendum for now but her weak and unpopular government, stoked by Anglo-Scottish divisions over Brexit, fuels SNP hopes they will get one day get their way. There is limited enthusiasm for another referendum amongst the public in Scotland but opinion on independence remains almost evenly split, exactly the same as the 2014 referendum result, 55 / 45% against. A swing in public opinion of just over 5% is not unimaginable. Should Jeremy Corbyn ever make it into Downing Street, his hard-left, anti-Trident views would conveniently dovetail with those of the SNP. (although the Labour party claims to officially be against independence and pro-Trident). Corbyn’s personal foreign policy instincts are essentially to align with actors who are the adversaries of Britain and the United States. Independence would probably destroy or severely hamper Trident and the nuclear submarine enterprise where US-UK relations are especially close, which would suit the SNP, Corbyn (and Putin).

The nuclear deterrent in peril

Surveys done in 2016 show only 20% of the British public completely oppose Trident, although the figure in Scotland is higher at 38%. Perhaps this is unsurprising as the Scottish public is fed a much stronger diet of SNP propaganda that inflates its costs, exaggerates risks and ignores its benefits. Overall there is still broad public support for the British nuclear weapons and the case for retaining our ultimate insurance policy is strengthening further as the post-Cold War consensus is ebbing away. Scottish independence would see the enforced removal of the Trident nuclear missile submarines from their base at Faslane. Such an upheaval also threatens the 6,700 Royal Navy and civilian workers at Faslane and even if a suitable deep water base could be found in England or Wales, as we examined in a previous article, the Trident submarine replacement program is already at the very limits of what the defence budget can bear. The costs of relocating facilities could well put an end to the UK nuclear deterrent on financial grounds. The loss of Faslane would also require the seven Astute class attack submarines to be re-located to Devonport, together with attendant costs.

If you follow the Glasgow-based UK Defence Journal on social media, you can witness the considerable time they spend correcting misunderstandings and deliberate falsehoods about Trident, shipbuilding on the Clyde and the aircraft carrier project that emerge on a daily basis. In the war of disinformation, the cybernats are entrenched in their position and unwilling to let facts get in the way of their view that London has “cheated” Scotland of its fair share of defence contracts. Not only is this view incorrect, but in their polarised view of the world, no time is given to understand the nuances and complexities of defence issues.

Scotland – the powerhouse of RN warship construction

The SNP website proclaims “Scottish shipyards have been sold down the river by the Tories”. It is true that the Tories have underfunded the navy and we are not building enough warships overall, but the idea that Scotland is not getting its fair share of the work is absurd. English yards have been allowed to close while, apart from submarines, all new UK warship construction is now done north of the border. Although the number has been reduced from the planned 13 ships, the BAES Clyde shipyard is in possession of the richest warship contract in Europe, building the 8 Type 26 frigates. The deliberately slow pace of Type 26 construction guarantees work for the highly skilled Clyde workforce for the next two decades, very few shipyards in the world have this kind of certainty.

The Clyde and Rosyth have had the lion’s share of work involved in the construction of the QEC aircraft carriers, the largest ships ever built for the RN. The QEC project is an extraordinary example of engineering from across all parts of the UK, supporting 4,000 Scottish workers, despite this, the Scottish Government has almost entirely ignored this British success as it does not fit with their grievance narrative. Should Babcock win the Type 31e Frigate competition, there will be further work for Rosyth and Ferguson Marine on the Clyde. The SNP is right to challenge the government on its flawed policy to allow foreign yards to compete to construct the Fleet Solid Support Ship. A UK-only competition could offer the prospect of more work for Rosyth.

In the event of independence, the RN would find its primary shipbuilder is now in a foreign country. Britain has never built its warships abroad both for security and economic reasons. Whether the Treasury would allow billions of Pounds to be spent on the Type 26 in ‘foreign’ yards is very doubtful. Chaos and uncertainty would ensue over how and where the RN would build its warships, potentially severely decimating the frigate programme. Enormous expense and upheaval would be involved in re-establishing English construction facilities. There would be inevitable job losses in Glasgow and Rosyth and the shipbuilding needs of an independent Scotland would be negligible in comparison to those of the Union.

HMS Trent rolled out of the construction hall at Govan on the Clyde for her naming ceremony. One of 5 OPVs built at great expense to provide continuity of work for the Clyde yards until the start of the Type 26 frigate programme.

Defending Scottish waters

The SNP does at least recognise the importance of the maritime domain to the UK, Scotland alone has a longer coastline than China. They are rightly critical of Westminster’s failure to invest in maritime forces, in particular, the axing of the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft and the lack of patrol vessels. Unfortunately, their position is undermined by the fact a newly independent Scotland would face financial problems and even if the SNP had the political appetite, it would be unlikely to increase defence spending above the 2% of GDP it currently enjoys. The SNP claim axing Trident is a big part of the answer to making its public spending plans work. The average annual cost of the entire Trident enterprise is around £2Bn per year, releasing Scotland’s £200m ‘share’ would not make a big difference to their public finances as a whole. It would also take around a decade and cost around £10Bn to decommission Britain’s nuclear weapons infrastructure.

The SNP frequently complains that “no major warships are based in Scotland”. It is true the frigates and destroyers are based in Portsmouth and Devonport but the lack of numbers already leaves the English bases arguing over their share of the shrinking fleet. In an ideal world where the RN had sufficient escort numbers, some would be based in Scotland but in the current financial climate, another frigate base cannot be justified. The support infrastructure for each class of ship would have to be duplicated and it also would complicate manning issues. Escorts have not been based in Scotland (Rosyth) since the late 1980s but surface ships now maintain a frequent presence in Scottish waters. For example, at the time of writing HMS Westminster has been operating from Faslane as the Towed Array Patrol Ship (TAPS) around Scotland and in Arctic waters for several weeks while HMS Diamond was patrolling in the North Sea and visited Invergordon last week.

Overall armed forces personnel numbers have declined in Scotland but this is just a reflection of the national picture, just ask the people living in the Plymouth area about the shrinking defence estate. Despite the threat of independence, considerable investment continues at Faslane which will shortly become the RN’s sole submarine base. Further investment and new jobs are being created at RAF Lossiemouth to support the new P-8As. £10M has been spent on recommissioning the Remote Radar Head at Saxa Vord in the Shetlands to improve coverage of the airspace over the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. A resurgent Russian navy has seen a renewed focus on naval operations in the North Atlantic, GIUK gap and the Arctic which increases Scotland’s strategic importance for NATO.

The ‘Scottish Navy’

According to defence policy formulated before the 2014 referendum, the ‘Scottish Navy’ will consist of two frigates, four mine countermeasures vessels and a ‘command platform’ all taken from the Royal Navy. There is also vague talk of talk of constructing OPVs and auxiliary support ships ‘shared with the UK’. The new navy is supposed to number about 2,000 personnel, initially to be drawn from Scots already serving in the RN. This assumes that Scots serving in the RN will be allowed to transfer when required by Scotland and that they would actually want to leave one of the world’s foremost navies to serve in this baby navy. As a hasty paper exercise it is easy to create a navy based on what the SNP considers to be its share of RN assets. Whether this division should be done on the basis of GDP, head of population or even length of coastline is another discussion, but the devil is in the detail. Taking a couple of frigates and basing them in Scotland may sound simple, but like most defence assets they require a complex logistics and support tail. Ammunition and spares are managed by a UK-wide system run by the MoD and a sophisticated training pipeline is needed to produce competent crews, not something that can be replicated easily.

Taking a global view

The Royal Navy is a globally-deployed force reaching overseas to support the wider interests of the UK. The SNP’s vision of defence appears to be rather more parochial, although it vainly hopes to have some wider relevance through NATO. Perhaps understandably turned off by Britain’s problems in recent overseas interventions, they see defence as something that can be done purely in their own backyard. This is a failure to recognise an independent Scotland would still be as reliant on global maritime trade as the UK. Unable to project power overseas they would simply be passing the burden of protection on to navies of other nations or hoping for the best.

As well as making dubious assumptions that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU, the SNP also expects to be able to join NATO. After adopting an aggressive anti-nuclear stance and having just paralysed the nuclear forces of a founding NATO nation, whether Scotland would be welcomed to join the alliance is highly doubtful. In reality, both Scottish and UK security would be weakened by independence, most significantly because whether Scots recognise or approve of it or not, the nuclear deterrent that protects us would be gone. Taking other assets from an already over-stretched RN to build a Scottish waters fleet will simply undermine the ability to support the wider interests of both countries. For example, it may be useful and symbolic to have a few more minehunters in Scottish waters for contingencies, the reality is that the threat of mines in the Persian Gulf is a much more immediate threat to Scottish economic interests. It is obvious is that Scotland would be heavily reliant on London’s co-operation for its defence forces to have any credibility, at least for the first decade post-independence. In the meantime they would need to be making considerable investments in duplicating support infrastructure just to field this small force. London will have the advantage in many of the negotiations and perhaps some of the damage could be mitigated, eg the RN could keep its frigates it return for Scottish forces making use of training and support facilities in England.

Better together

Separation would weaken both nations, undermine global credibility while duplicating costs to both country’s taxpayers. For the RN breaking up the Union would be disastrous from both an operational and support perspective, further weakening an over-stretched service. Historically many Scotsmen have served with distinction in the British armed forces. Their engineering and shipbuilding prowess was at the heart of naval power and this still holds true today, albeit on a lesser scale. Scotland already rightly has a great deal of independence over its domestic affairs but we are stronger and safer together, both economically and strategically. Those in Westminster also need to work harder to demonstrate that Scottish interests are best served by remaining in the Union, greater investment in RN would certainly help this cause.



from Save the Royal Navy

HMS Queen Elizabeth sails for part II helicopter trials

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth this morning to conduct a second set of rotary-wing flying trials. Her sailing had been delayed by a few days after a defect with the power system emerged. This was quickly rectified and the delay will not affect her overall programme for this year.

She has been alongside for the last 13 weeks for a “Capability Insertion Period” during which time engineers have been working hard to upgrade her systems and carry out planned maintenance tasks. This included painting the non-slip coating on sections of her deck – something planned to be done in stages, every time she’s alongside.

30 BAE Systems engineers have sailed with the ship and will continue to carry out work onboard during the 2-3 weeks away. Their focus working on setting-to, testing and fine-tuning systems to support the F-35 flying trials which will be conducted later this year.

Note the large new ship’s crests installed on the port and starboard side of the after island

The first four 617 Squadron F-35s arrived in the UK this week and many have assumed they will join quickly the ship but operational aircraft will not embark on the ship until late 2019 at the earliest. 617 Squadron will receive the remaining aircraft to bring it up to its strength of around 12 aircraft by the end of 2018. Its initial focus will be flying from RAF Marham on land-based training, aiming for formal Initial Operating Capability (IOC/Land) to be declared in by December. Specially instrumented F-35s will be the first to land on board QE when the ship is off the Eastern Seaboard of the US in the autumn.

Phase 1 helicopter trials with the Merlin and Chinook were a success, Apache and Wildcat have yet to be cleared to operate and it is assumed they will participate in the phase 2 trails. The flying serials are used to write the Ship Helicopter Operating Limits (SHOL) which define the safe operating envelope for each aircraft type flying from the QEC carriers.

QE will return home sometime in July to begin preparations for the trip to the United States. QE is due to visit New York, probably in September and will be escorted on the deployment by Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose. Press reports that F-35s will perform a demonstration landing on board QE in Portsmouth for the visit Donald Trump on 13th July should be taken with a very large pinch of salt!

Notice wind turbulence sensor aerial installed on the forward flight deck for use in gathering data for the flight trials.

Round Tower and Old Portsmouth dwarfed by the mighty ship. Will aircraft carrier movements in an out of Portsmouth ever become “routine”?

Photos: BAE Systems



from Save the Royal Navy

Will the Type 26 frigates be based in Devonport?

On 6th June, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, Luke Pollard opened a Westminster Hall Parliamentary debate on the base-porting of Type 26 frigates. A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of Devonport and the MoD is under pressure to make an early decision on the basing arrangements for the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates.

In an earlier article, we looked at the overall issues that Devonport faces. Worries over the future of the amphibious ships, a reduction in Royal Marine numbers and the end of submarine basing increases the pressure for frigates to be homeported in Plymouth.

Earlier this year it was announced the base-porting of the Type 23 frigates would be rationalised so that the 8 ships fitted with the towed array sonar tail will all be Devonport-based. The 5 that have a crew gym in the space where the towed array should be, and referred to as general purpose, will be Portsmouth-based. Making Devonport the centre of ASW excellence makes sense and would point to the 8 specialist Type 26 ASW ships replacing the Type 23s in Devonport.

Portsmouth’s future is very much more certain as the home to two large aircraft carriers, the 6 Type 45 destroyers and the 5 new OPVs. On the debit side, HMS Protector moved from Portsmouth to be a Devonport-based ship in 2016 (but as she spends several years away at a time this is of limited benefit to Plymouth). The rationalisation of the Type 23s will also see Devonport gain one frigate at Portsmouth’s expense. There remains an unpleasant possibility that this balance could be upset by the Modernising Defence Review, if the RN is forced to axe a couple of Type 23s in order to keep other assets.

There is no doubt that the Plymouth has suffered a big reduction in the size of its defence estate and in personnel numbers over the last 20 years, on an even greater scale than Portsmouth. The 5 GP Type 23s that will soon all be Portsmouth-based will go out of service first and are the first Type 31s are supposed to be available ahead of the first Type 26s. Basing the Type 31s in Portsmouth seems like the obvious choice and would approximately preserve the status quo. The projected fleet operating doctrine suggests that one or more of the Type 31s are likely to be permanently forward-deployed more often than the Type 26 so would spend much less time in their home port.

Luke Pollard was joined by other MPs from the Plymouth area; Gary Streeter, Johnny Mercer and Kevin Foster. There is strong cross-party support making the case for Devonport’s future. Valid points were made about the suitability of Devonport with good access to the Atlantic and decades of investment in infrastructure and facilities. As well as the civilian jobs, many naval personnel (and ex-naval personnel) and their families live in the Plymouth area, contributing to the economy and social fabric of a region that suffers from being distant from the economic driver of the South East.

The debate raised issues specific to Plymouth but the needs of the navy should be paramount and balanced with the view from Portsmouth. Luke Pollard argues the case for the Navy with greater clarity and understanding than the majority of MPs but over-stated his case by demanding “We need a commitment to make all the Type 26s and the Type 31s Devonport based as well”. While he may be entitled to fight for his constituents, the decisions must be made in the context of the needs of the whole surface fleet. Former Portsmouth City Council Leader, Donna Jones has made similar sweeping demands in the past calling for all 13 frigates to be based in the city. It was rather surprising that no Portsmouth MPs managed to attend the debate while a few Scottish and DUP MPs with an interest in defence were present.

The support conundrum

The Type 26 is very much a BAE Systems’ product and they are likely to win the contract to support the ships in service. BAES have a considerable presence in Portsmouth where they support the surface fleet there and it would suit them to have the Type 26 in Portsmouth. Babcock own the dockyard at Devonport (as opposed to the Naval Base area which is MoD-owned) and are rivals to BAES in many areas of the UK defence business. Should the Type 26s be based in Devonport, either the support contract would have to go to Babcock or BAES would need to establish its own facilities in the Dockyard. The Type 31 competition currently hangs in the balance but it is quite possible that these frigates could be Babcock products which would dovetail nicely with their support facilities in Plymouth. It may appear that Type 26 is a natural fit for Devonport with the Type 31 home-ported in Portsmouth but the arrangements for supporting these vessels in service may add complications.

The minister responds

Guto Bebb, Minister for Defence Procurement, was on hand to answer some of the questions raised. Most surprisingly, he said something his boss the Defence Secretary has resolutely refused to say until now. Responding to another question about the future of the LPDs, rather irritably he said: “The honourable gentleman should be aware that HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark are safe until 2033 and 2034 – that’s the decommissioning dates for both vessels.” If this was not a major gaffe then he has pre-empted the results of the MDP and confirmed these ships are safe from cuts. Such a statement was so unexpected that it has not yet been widely reported in the media – perhaps some are reluctant to believe it.

Guto was fulsome in his praise for the passion of the Plymouth MPs and, very encouragingly has promised that a decision on the future of the Type 26 basing will be made before the end of 2018. This should at least help Plymouth make plans for its future economy. It should be remembered that the needlessly extended Type 26 construction programme will not see HMS Glasgow in the water until 2025 and be arriving in her homeport for the first time in late 2026.

Sadly the Minister also repeated the falsehood that everyone hoped had passed out of use when Michael Fallon and Harriet Baldwin moved on. “We have a growing Royal Navy for the first time in decades” he claimed. By any measure, this is patently not true. He is right to point to a major new equipment plan and that the defence budget is rising by 0.5% above inflation. Unfortunately, the equipment plan is around £20Bn short and defence inflation runs well above the main inflation rate. Despite new construction, the number of vessels in the RN service is declining and there are considerable gaps in equipment and capabilities.

Luke Pollard should be commended for securing this debate and doing much to highlight the plight of the navy. All things considered, it would be something of a surprise if the Type 26 frigates are not Devonport-based. Any other decision would probably seal the fate of the naval base, a disaster for the RN and the resulting fall-out would be political dynamite.

Video of the June 6th Westminster Hall debate – Base-porting of Type 26 frigates



from Save the Royal Navy

Photo & video essay: The aircraft carrier’s main armament, F-35s arrive in the UK

After sensibly postponing the trip for 24 hours due to bad weather, yesterday the first four UK-owned F-35Bs touched down at RFA Marham after a trans-Atlantic flight from the United States. Despite the postponement, the jets have arrived two months ahead of the original schedule and those involved in the programme deserve to be congratulated. These aircraft of 617 Squadron will form part of the initial main armament for the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and will be the cornerstone of the UK carrier strike capability. The MoD has provided some outstanding imagery and video which tells the story of their arrival.

F-35 Taxiing

The aircraft taxing ready for take off at USMC Beaufort, South Carolina, where Britain has more of the jets and 150 personnel in training.

The approximately 3,600 nautical mile journey across the Atlantic required each aircraft to conduct 9 air-air refuelling serials. The F-35B can fly for around 1,800nm but they were kept are topped up to allow an aircraft to reach a diversionary airfield in the case of a refuelling problem.

The flying petrol station – RAF Voyager tankers provided air-air refuelling.

In flight over the Atlantic, the F-35B looks beautiful and sleek

“Permission to buzz the tower”

Landing sequence

Lieutenant Commander Hogg, RN, the Executive Officer of 617 Squadron, lands the second F35 at RAF Marham.

Lt Cdr Adam Hogg is congratulated on his flight by Vice Admiral Ben Key – Fleet Commander, Air Chief Marshal Stephen Hillier, Defence Procurement Minister – Guto Bebb and Group Captain Ian Townsend – Marham Station Commander.

The newly-arrived aircraft are attended by a mixed RN and RAF ground crews.

As part of ‘project Anvil’, around £550m has been invested in RAF Marham to get the base ready for the F-35. The base has seen an upgrade in facilities, resurfaced runways and the addition of new landing pads to accommodate the jet’s ability to land vertically.


Ever since aircraft first operated to and from ships, the Royal Navy has been at the forefront of maritime aviation and the arrival of our first F35Bs in the UK today, flown by both RAF and Fleet Air Arm pilots, is another important milestone on the way to restoring our place as leaders in the field of aircraft carrier operations.” First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Philip Jones

Commander UK Carrier Strike Group, Cdre Andrew Betton speaks about F-35B arrival in UK.

from Save the Royal Navy

Arrowhead V Leander – the leading Type 31e frigate candidates compared

The competition for the Type 31e frigate programme is now between two contenders. The BAE Systems/Cammel Laird Leander and the Babcock/Team 31 Arrowhead-140. Here we provide a basic comparison of the two options.

The competitive design phase contracts have been awarded and both designs are likely to evolve further before the Type 31 competition winner is announced in the first quarter of 2019. The chart below shows an overview of the essential characteristics of the two contenders. It should be noted that weapons and sensor fit (in the middle band) are all optional and the final selection may, or may not, include the equipment listed. With a very tight budget of £250M per ship, funding for the weapons fit maybe dependent on how efficiently the hulls can be constructed.

The Arrowhead-140 design announced last month has certainly raised the bar. For some time even before the birth of the Type 31e, there have been those advocating the adoption of the successful Danish Stanflex modular system as the basis for cheaper warships. As a proven, in-service and affordable design, it is even being suggested the Arrowhead could be a contender for the US Navy’s FFG(X) competition. It will be interesting to see if BAE Systems responds with a revised Super Leander, given the ‘on-paper’ inferiority of Leander to Arrowhead-140.


Prepared using publicly available information, June 2018.

from Save the Royal Navy