Has the time come to the move the cost of Trident replacement out of the MoD budget?

On July 29th 2010 the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the MoD would have to fund the capital costs of replacing the Vanguard class submarines (Successor) from within its own core equipment procurement budget, instead of from the Treasury Reserve as had been expected. Defence Minister at the time, Liam Fox argued strongly that funding Successor from within the MoD would be hugely damaging to the rest of defence. He lost his argument with Osborne, but time has proved him right about the consequences.

The annual running costs of the UK nuclear deterrent have always been part of the MoD budget. The sources of funding for Trident has always been contentious. Maintaining Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) has been both a blessing and a curse for the Navy. While a top government priority and a prestigious responsibility, the running costs were moved from the MoD to the Navy’s budget in the 1981 Defence Review. This has inevitably has impacted directly on funding for other naval programs and a major contributing factor in hollowing out the navy.

Trident is widely perceived as a ‘political’ weapon, a national instrument and there is a strong case that it should sit outside a single service budget. It is also disproportionate to allocate the vast capital cost of the successor project to one of the smaller government departments. (In real terms, the MoD’s budget has approximately halved since the original Trident project of the early 1990s). Precedent exists for this arrangement. HS2 and Crossrail are also large long-term projects and they are funded from the Treasury budget, rather than by the Department of Transport.

The spending on the Successor project will peak in the next 5 years and will severely constrain MoD cash flow. The most challenging issue is the cost fluctuations or overspends which could force the MoD to find additional savings on an annual basis. The costs of building the Dreadnought submarines are likely to flex and alter considerably, year-on-year. The program would be better-managed holistically within a 30-year envelope, rather than under in-year budgetary frameworks which means that every other part of the MoD budget will suffer.

George Osborne’s excuse in 2010 was that by making the MoD fund the Trident successor programme, it would be incentivised to manage costs better if it was responsible for the budget. The reality is that even if it exercised the best management practice in the world, holding all the financial risk and inevitable cost growth leaves the MoD out of pocket. Already this financial year, £300 million in savings will have to be found within from the defence budget to cover growth in expenditure on Successor. The construction program will see costs rise to almost 10% of the defence budget at its peak in 2019-20. It is these peaks and unexpected over-runs that are a greater problem than the overall total cost.

The annual cost of maintaining Trident is around £2.5Bn per year, split roughly evenly between operating the Vanguard class submarines and running AWE Aldermaston where nuclear warheads are manufactured and refurbished. Pictured is HMS Vanguard currently undergoing mid-life nuclear refuelling in number 9 Dock at Devonport. (Photo: Maps data ©2017 Google)

Understanding the capital costs

Government has earmarked £31 Billion for the capital costs of the Successor project (with an additional £10bn contingency fund which most analysts expect to be fully used or exceeded). Precise figures are hard to come by, but the £31 Billion can be broken down into ‘ballpark’ figures something like this:

  • Already spent on the assessment phase, design, facilities and long-lead items for first 2 submarines – £6.1Bn
  • Construction of four Dreadnought class submarines – £16.4Bn
  • Development of PW3 reactor – £1.4Bn (This project is already in trouble and likely to over-spend)
  • Upgrades to infrastructure at Barrow (construction yard) & Faslane (submarine base) – £3Bn
  • New nuclear warhead design and manufacture at Aldermaston/Burghfield – £3Bn
  • Extending life of Vanguard submarines in operation until 2028 – £1.6Bn
  • Joint US/UK Trident D5 missile life extension programme – £250M

The MoD ups its game

Recognising the great risks and magnitude of the task, the MoD has already established a new executive agency – the Submarine Delivery Authority (SDA) employing 1,300 people to oversee the Dreadnought construction program. Inspired by the success of the 2012 London Olympics Delivery Authority, the SDA is separate from DE&S and has the freedom to recruit the best managers to ensure the Dreadnought class are delivered on time and budget. It will also be responsible for the remaining Astute class submarines and support of submarines already in service. The SDA is led by Ian Booth, former head of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance that has built the ships on time and on budget. The Dreadnought submarines will be delivered by a similar MoD, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce alliance. The SDA will report to the newly created Director General Nuclear (Julian Kelly, a former Treasury trouble-shooter) who is responsible for all aspects of the defence nuclear effort including submarines and warheads, from procurement through to disposal. Despite their effort to manage the Successor program with the best people available, funding challenges will remain a concern for the MoD.

Paying the premium for our ultimate insurance policy

Many opponents of nuclear weapons will use the cost argument as a good excuse to axe Trident. Fortunately this government, an overwhelming number of MPs and the majority of the general public recognise the critical importance of our deterrent. To put the costs in perspective, over its 35-year lifetime (assuming we continue to spend approximately 2% GDP on defence) Trident will consume an average of 6% of the annual defence budget, equivalent to 0.13% of total government spending. The annual running costs of Trident are about the same as what we spend on the NHS in a single week.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament on cost grounds would be a dangerous blunder and signal the end of Britain was a leading world power. At the same time, we must not allow our conventional forces to be so weakened that Brexit Britain is perceived by the rest of the world to be disengaging and retreating behind its nuclear shield.

The deeper reserves of the Treasury make it far better equipped to cope with the variables in the lengthy Successor programme. Moving the cost centre will not make it any cheaper but would immediately stabilise the MoD budget at a time when pressures are mounting.

With a budget that is already too small, the challenge of the Trident renewal program threatens to undermine and damage conventional capabilities even further. There are a growing number of MPs who recognise this and would back a change in Successor funding. General Sir Richard Barron’s recently exposed the perilous state of UK defence saying any further cuts would leave the government “responsible for tipping the armed forces into institutional failure”. Making this change would be a big step to remedy some of the funding problems of the Navy, Army and RAF.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/has-the-time-come-to-the-move-the-cost-of-trident-replacement-out-of-the-mod-budget/


Towards SDSR 2018 – Part 1 (Breaking the Crisis Cycle)

It is easy to advance a case for more defence funding and in our echo chambers we would all agree, with the only dissent being about what to spend the extra money on. Instead, I am going to make a case for a series of difficult choices that avoid the tired old tropes of moving …

The post Towards SDSR 2018 – Part 1 (Breaking the Crisis Cycle) appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2017/11/towards-sdsr-2018-part-1-breaking-crisis-cycle/

Type 45 Destroyer issues continue – HMS Diamond breaks down on Gulf deployment

Today the Times correctly reported that HMS Diamond has had to abort her Gulf deployment and return to home for repairs. The defect concerns the propellor but is not directly related to the engine issues that have been the primary cause of Type 45 destroyer woes. Unfortunately,  the problem cannot be rectified by dry docking in Bahrain or Gibraltar and requires the attention of specialists in Portsmouth.

In recent years the RN has maintained single frigate or destroyer East of Suez on Operation Kipion. Patrolling the Gulf and the Indian Ocean on maritime security operations is an important priority for the RN and Diamonds departure will mean there is now no major RN warship in the region for the first time in since the Armilla Patrol was established in the early 1980s. This defect once again exposes how over-stretched the RN surface fleet has become as there are no replacements close to hand. While HMS Diamond’s ships company can enjoy Christmas at home, another ship is likely to have a radical change of program, Kipion is a priority tasking for the RN.

The only RN warship currently in the Mediterranean is HMS Ocean on her last major deployment as flagship for NATO Standing Maritime Group 2. HMS Diamond had already deputised for HMS Ocean in this role during September while Ocean made a dash across the Atlantic to support hurricane relief work in the Caribbean. At the end of October, HMS Ocean returned to the Meditteranean and HMS Diamond formally handed over to her at Suda Bay in Crete. She then sailed for the Gulf to relieve HMS Monmouth.

The Times states “Admiral Sir Philip Jones, head of the navy, is under pressure to demonstrate that the Type 45s work despite long-running problems with the engine in warm water”. The First Sea Lord cannot be blamed for the propulsion problems of the Type 45s, the roots of the issue go back several decades (explained in detail here). In this specific case, it is the Ministry of Defence (DE&S) and their BAE Systems contractors in Portsmouth who are responsible for the state of HMS Diamond’s propellors, not navy command. The over-stretched surface fleet is the fault of politicians of all parties who have repeatedly cut the navy and even now are contemplating further cuts.

It should be noted that despite the backdrop of manpower shortages, not enough ships and further possible cuts, on 22nd November 2017 the RN still managed to have 32 ships and submarines either overseas or on operations (including RFAs but not including P2000 boats) and around 8,000 people actively deployed. The beleaguered First Sea Lord can claim with some credibility that, in proportion to its size, the RN is the busiest navy in the world. (The majority of these vessels are deployed in European or home waters).

Overall the Type 45 fleet spends far too much time alongside in Portsmouth. The £280 million Power Improvement Package (PIP), which should provide a permanent cure for the engine troubles, promised in the 2015 SDSR will not begin until 2019. This delay is unacceptable and should be brought forward as a matter of urgency, beginning with HMS Dauntless. Despite the propulsion troubles, it should be remembered the Type 45s have successfully deployed in the heat of the Gulf and elsewhere by using temporary engine fixes and some operating restrictions developed under the Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP).

Type 45s – snapshot

  • HMS Daring – in long-term lay-up as harbour training ship (due to manpower shortages) since returning from successful 9-month Gulf deployment in May 2017.
  • HMS Dauntless – due to begin major refit, having been laid up since 2015.
  • HMS Diamond – Due back in Portsmouth in early December after propellor defect put a premature end to Gulf deployment.
  • HMS Dragon – Participated in Exercise Formidable Shield in October and assisted with HMS Queen Elizabeth sea trials in early November. Alongside in Portsmouth. (Possible candidate to replace Diamond in the Gulf?)
  • HMS Duncan – Alongside in Portsmouth – operational and may sail soon.
  • HMS Defender – About to complete a lengthy major refit and return to the feet.


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/type-45-destroyer-issues-continue-hms-diamond-breaks-down-on-gulf-deployment/

Gordon Brown and the TOBA that shafted the Navy


In this guest article, Jag Patel considers if Gordon Brown’s reputation as a prudent politician is deserved and the impact his policies are still having on the RN today.

During his 10 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown cultivated a carefully crafted reputation as a prudent politician and trustworthy custodian of the public purse. Indeed, such was his penchant for using the word ‘prudence’ that political journalists took to playing a fun game of counting the number of times it was mentioned in his budget speeches. Some even jokingly suggested that Prudence was the name of his girlfriend, who had been kept out of the public eye. Either way, Brown’s record in office, as a “fiscally prudent politician”, does not tally with the evidence.

In his autobiography My Life, Our Times, Brown discusses among other things the financial crises, his economic record and that fateful promise made by Tony Blair. Not surprisingly, there is no mention of one of most disgraceful actions of his government. It concerns state-sponsored protectionism, and failure to install genuinely independent regulatory bodies. This shameful episode, which marred Brown’s time in office, relates to the procurement of military equipment.

What has been clear for many years is that, public subsidies handed out to defence equipment manufacturers over several decades, is the reason why they have failed so miserably, to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.

Means of defence production in the hands private interests

In the UK, as in many western countries, the means of defence production, distribution and exchange is exclusively in the hands of private interests, that is to say, the State is entirely dependent on for-profit organisations for the design, development, manufacture and delivery of new military equipment to the Armed Forces. Consequently, the government has no choice but to rely on the Private Sector for all its military equipment needs, including its subsequent upkeep when in-service with the user. The harsh reality is that, no department of state in Whitehall is as dependent on the Private Sector, as is the Ministry of Defence – putting it at serious risk of capture by private interests (if it hasn’t already been) which allows them to bend policy to their will, as it relates to the expenditure of public funds. Equally, these private interests are entirely dependent upon a steady flow of taxpayer funds for their very survival – no least, because they have not bothered to diversify at all.

For those not familiar with this concept of state capture, Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, defines it as “a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to shape a nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests”.

The shipbuilding Terms of Business Agreement (TOBA)

The Terms of Business Agreement on naval shipbuilding was signed in secret by the Brown government with BAE Systems during the dying days of the 2005-10 Parliament. It locked the government into an appallingly poor 15-year commercial arrangement laced with a punitive get-out clause which, if made public, would have attracted an outcry during the run-up to the 2010 general election. The agreement left the incoming administration no room to manoeuvre at all, as it set about started the 2010 SDSR, the first defence review in 12 years.

Gordon Brown

The existence of the TOBA was only revealed to Parliament in 2011 by the coalition government, when it was confronted with the undeniable truth that MoD finances were in bad shape and needed to be declared publicly, to garner public support for deep cuts in the defence budget that ensued.

It is an open secret that the even the most fiscally prudent people in government are prone to softening their stance just before a general election, when they are up for re-election, which makes them more likely to open-up the public purse. Equally, defence contractors are aware of this weakness in top politicians and will take full advantage, by surreptitiously intensifying their lobbying efforts (in concert with trade unions), to apply political pressure spliced with threats of massive lay-offs, timed to coincide with the electoral cycle, to relieve politicians off taxpayers’ money and maximise their take – which is exactly what happened with this TOBA.

TOBA – What it is all about

Briefly, the TOBA commits the government to guaranteeing BAE Systems a minimum level of surface ship construction and support activity of about £230 million a year. Apparently, this level of work was independently verified as the minimum level of work required to sustain a credible warship building industry in the UK, and thus avoid the delays encountered during the Astute class submarine build programme, caused in part by the loss of skilled staff, which arose due to the gap between Astute and the Vanguard class submarine builds. MoD claims that the TOBA was designed in such a way as to incentivise major reductions in the size of the shipbuilding industry, on a managed basis, to minimise the rationalisation cost which MoD was liable to pay for, under historic Yellow Book rules.

However, delay after delay in letting the build contract for the Type 26 frigate, largely due to the considerable pressure on MoD finances brought on by the appearance of the so-called ‘black hole’, resulted in a gap in orders opening up between completion of the second aircraft carrier and the start of the Type 26 construction programme. It was to avoid exactly this type of situation from arising in the first place, that the TOBA was established!

So, in an attempt to fill this gap, the government agreed to buy five Offshore Patrol Vessels from BAE Systems, for a price of £348 million. But because the TOBA required £230 million to be spent with BAE Systems each year, the government ended up paying an additional £100 million, on top of the agreed price for the OPVs – making them the most expensive OPVs in the world. Worse still, these are ships the RN did not especially need as it already had 4 relatively modern OPVs.

The staggering incompetence of people in government who negotiated and then gave the green light to this agreement, that is, elite politicians, their special advisers, senior civil servants and military top brass, knows no bounds – it is there for all to see!

TOBA finds no mention in the National Shipbuilding Strategy

To be fair, this government inherited the TOBA from the last government. Notwithstanding, it is so embarrassed by the existence of the TOBA, that it couldn’t even bring itself to mention it in its new National Shipbuilding Strategy, released in September 2017 – yet the National Shipbuilding Strategy was shaped by the terrible experience of the TOBA.

Most notably, the National Shipbuilding Strategy abandons the failed policy of intervening in the market to dictate the composition of the shipbuilding industry and also extends (finally) use of the instrument of fair and open competition, to select the Prime Contractor for the new generation of Type 31e general purpose frigates, to be built for a fixed, not-to-exceed price of £250 million each.

What’s more, for the first time in the history of defence procurement in the UK, it will be mandatory for the ship to be designed with exports in mind from the outset, and accordingly, bidders will be required to prove that they have secured the commitment of potential export customer(s) which the government will verify, before placing the shipbuilding contract with the winning Prime Contractor, on the basis of best value for money. This requirement will also serve to achieve the government’s wider goal of a Global Britain in the post-Brexit era, so that it can pay its way in the world.

The only saving grace about this TOBA is that it has a sunset clause built into it, that is to say, it expires after 15 years, in 2024 – otherwise, it could have quite easily been much worse for taxpayers!

Protectionism and favouritism

So, instead of exposing defence equipment manufacturers to the full rigours of the free market, the Brown government chose to engage in protectionism and favouritism by handing out uncontested, long-term shipbuilding contracts worth billions of pounds – with virtually no checks and controls, or even guarantees, which has come to haunt this minority government. Nevertheless, it has decided to honour the TOBA because it simply has no choice.

What’s more, in the military equipment market, it has been long-standing policy to combine the role of the sponsoring agency and regulatory authority in a single department of state, the Ministry of Defence – which means that the crucial independent scrutiny function, free from political interference, is non-existent. So, capture of one amounts to taking control over both!

The revolving door

Worse still, people at the Ministry of Defence are, without exception, favourably disposed towards the defence industry because they are completely dependent upon it for their subsequent career when their time in public service comes to an end sometimes by political edict. Indeed, it is very hard to find anyone at MoD who will aggressively defend taxpayers’ interests, once they have enjoyed a cosy relationship with contractors.

A modern Defence Industrial Strategy

An innovative proposal (download the paper here) on how to go about eliciting Private Sector investment capital in defence procurement programmes is set out in a written submission to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which reported on its inquiry into Industrial Strategy in the last Parliament. It introduces a modern Defence Industrial Strategy that puts financial security and the national interest first, not military equipment manufacturers’ commercial interests.

The signing of this TOBA is another contributing factor to the pressure the defence budget is now under. It is understandable why Treasury Ministers are disinclined to increase the MoD’s budget, given their historic record of mismanagement, with this TOBA being another example.


Jag Patel is an independent Defence Procurement Adviser with over 30 years experience of researching, analysing, publicising and solving a wide range of entrenched procurement problems. He tweets as @JagPatel3 
(Opinions expressed here are not necessarily that of Save the Royal Navy. We also recognise Conservative administrations have made just as many mistakes with defence as Labour)



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/gordon-brown-and-the-toba-that-shafted-the-navy/

10 reasons the Royal Navy needs to keep HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark

Government is seriously considering axing HMS Albion and Bulwark, severely curtailing UK amphibious capability. Recent reports suggest the new defence secretary is resisting the cuts and is in a battle with the Treasury for new funding. If the Treasury needs reminding, speaking before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee this week, the former First Sea Lord Admiral Zambellas said: “Nobody in the world of complex warfare thinks a reduction in sophisticated amphibiosity is a good idea”. The LPDs (Landing Platform, Dock) Albion and Bulwark are the key ships needed for credible amphibious capability.

1. Amphibious capability is a strategic part of our conventional deterrence

By retaining the ability to land troops and their equipment on a foreign shore at a time and place of our choosing, the UK has a deterrent to other nations or actors that may seek to invade our allies or undermine our national interests. Throughout the Cold War, the primary role of our amphibious forces was to reinforce Norway in the event of an invasion by Russia. Apart from providing assistance to the people of Norway, the UK’s Northern Flank would be strategically important in controlling Russian naval access to the North Sea and Atlantic. As tensions with Russia increase, the amphibious capability is becoming increasingly relevant again.

To be ready for unexpected events, the RN has developed the  Response Force Task Group (RFTG) and more recently the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) concepts. These are exercised during annual deployments to maintain amphibious capability and have been centred on HMS Ocean or the LPDs. (although in recent years the number of ships and marines participating has been reducing as the navy has been hollowed out). There JEF(M) is an important tool for the government foreign policy.

There may be increasing public opposition to involvement in major overseas conflicts but our amphibious forces provide the option for small-scale raiding, interventions and humanitarian operations. Our Amphibious forces offer potentially large strategic impact for a relatively low cost. In the mid-1990s the RN had a plan for a balanced amphibious force which eventually delivered HMS Ocean (LPH), HMS Albion & Bulwark (LPD) and the 4 Bay class (LSD(A). The entire cost of these 7 ships (at 2010 prices) was just £1.26 Billion.

2. Other nations are investing, not cutting

Should the government cut the LPDs, be prepared for disingenuous claims about how “amphibious warfare has changed and we are adjusting our doctrine accordingly”. The rest of the world does not agree that LPDs are redundant and many nations are striving to modernise their amphibious vessels or gain the capability. It should be noted that the US, China, Russia and France can all deploy and support amphibious forces over distance and the UK could drop out of that club. Australia, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Singapore, Netherlands, China, Italy and South Korea have also all invested in modern LPH and LPDs.

3. You cannot do amphibious assault entirely by air

The justification for axing HMS Ocean is that troops will go ashore by helicopter from one of the new aircraft carriers. As already discussed, this is a flawed concept, even without LPD support. It may make sense to deliver the first wave of troops quickly by air from a deck, far out to sea, instead of by slow landing craft from a vulnerable stationary ship close to the beach. Unfortunately, Troops need heavy weapons, vehicles, fuel food and ammunition which cannot be delivered in sufficient quantity by helicopter. In more intense conflict, armoured vehicles, artillery or even a few main battle tanks may be required. Unless there is a convenient port close by, the armour and logistic support must be delivered over the beach even if in a ’second wave’ after the helicopter-borne troops have secured the area.

You can’t do this with a helicopter

Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster recently suggested that even if we lost the LPDs, we still retain some amphibious capability with the RFA Bay class landing ships. This is very misleading. The Bays are auxiliaries designed to carry additional stores to support the LPDs. They carry a single landing craft (LCU) as opposed to the 4 LCUs and 4 LCVPs that the LPDs can carry. They are manned by merchant sailors and not intended to spearhead an amphibious assault. More importantly, they are a victim of their own success. The inherent flexibility of amphibious platforms has made them well suited to other roles. One of the three remaining ships is permanently forward-deployed in the Gulf supporting minehunters and they have been used to conduct humanitarian operations and anti-narcotics patrols in the Caribbean. The Royal Marines have had limited opportunity to exercise with the Bay class which are often in use for other things.

4. We would be throwing away decades of investment

HMS Albion recently completed a £90 Million refit at Devonport and was planned to be the high-readiness amphibious ship for the next 5 years. In 2013 RM Tamar was constructed as base for Royal Marine landing craft at a cost of £30M. There has been considerable investment in specialised amphibious kit and equipment for the Marines and the navy. Axing the LPDs, together with the loss of HMS Ocean (refitted at a cost of £65M between 2014-15) represents a ludicrous waste of money and hard-won defence assets.

5. We would be letting down our NATO and European partners

The amphibious capability of the UK is integrated into NATO planning. The Dutch marines have especially close ties with the Royal Marines and frequently exercise together. As Brexit looms, it would be especially poor timing to abandon a critical defence relationship with our European allies. The US Marine Corps also enjoys a good relationship and mutual respect for the Royal Marines and several senior US officers have already spoken out against proposed cuts. At a time when we need a trade deal with the US, any significant downgrading in our defence capability would be poorly received by president Trump who expects Europeans to be shouldering more of their own defence costs.

6. They are well suited to humanitarian aid and relief work

Recent history suggests the RN is more frequently involved in disaster relief work or humanitarian operations than in combat. The LPDs and UK amphibious forces are especially well suited to this work and it would be foolish to diminish this important soft power asset.

7. They have valuable command and control facilities

The LPDs have large, purpose-built facilities designed primarily to exercise control over amphibious assault operations. The facility can also command a task group at sea or other operations – HMS Bulwark was used as the control centre for the security of the 2012 Olympic sailing events at Portland. There are no other large C3 facilities available in the fleet apart from aboard the QE aircraft carriers. Most of the time, only one of the carriers is likely to be available, leaving the RN with very limited flagship options.

8. The RN needs as many hulls as possible

Put simply, the RN needs ships. The loss of the 2 LPDs would be a further decline in hull numbers. (One of the LPDs has been kept in mothballs or refit since 2010). Mass matters and the LPDs are large, capable ships able to perform in many roles beyond their core assault function. Rescuing migrants, evacuating British Citizens or protecting the Olympics are all tasks these versatile ships have performed since they joined the fleet. For officers who aspire to senior rank, they are an important intermediate stepping stone, a step up from a frigate or destroyer command on the way to becoming a candidate to captain an aircraft carrier or attain flag rank.

9. Once a capability is gone, it is difficult or impossible to regenerate

If we dispose of the LPDs we will quickly lose the institutional knowledge and experience of amphibious operations built up over decades. Once lost, it would be expensive, difficult and take years to regenerate this capability from scratch.

10. The wrong signal at the wrong time

As discussed in a previous article, axing the LPDs at the same time as HMS Ocean would call into question the future of Devonport naval base. We do not have ships to justify bases but we need to keep options open and retain skilled workers available to support the RN in an emergency or allow future expansion. Cutting the LPDs would further damage the morale of the navy and marines, cause loss of civilian support jobs and above all, say to our allies and potential enemies we are not serious about defence.



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/10-reasons-the-royal-navy-needs-to-keep-hms-albion-and-hms-bulwark/

The state of the Royal Navy submarine flotilla and UK ASW capability

Rear Admiral Roger Lane-Nott was Captain of HMS Splendid during the Falklands War and Flag Officer Submarines from 1993-1996. In this article, he examines the state of the submarine flotilla and the RN’s ability to counter a growing Russian submarine threat. 

At a meeting of the Commons Defence Select Committee this week there were some strong words from General Sir Richard Barrons who made the accusation that a lack of money and policy of denial have left the Armed Forces not fit for purpose and at risk of “institutional failure.” At the same meeting the former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas stated that “the country’s ability to hunt Russian submarines was inadequate.” That is an understatement.

The Submarine Flotilla is in a difficult place at the moment. The Flotilla moved everyone to Faslane but kept the Submarine School at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall (good planning that). The four Vanguard submarines have been joined by the SSNs from Devonport and the Flotilla HQ moved from Northwood now under Rear Admiral Submarines – why did we change from Flag Officer Submarines? West Dunbartonshire and the SNP are very hostile to the Navy and the Leader of the Opposition wants to scrap Trident despite supporting it being Labour party policy. We are struggling with the rump (2) of the Trafalgar class and insufficient Astute class (just 3 operational). Now we have the scandal of the Captain and Executive Officer of HMS Vigilant being relieved due to inappropriate behaviour involving female crew members. How can you have women in submarines when the Navy has a no-touch rule is beyond me. Recruitment is poor and the challenge of recruiting and training nuclear engineer officers is still proving difficult.

Veteran submariners are dismayed at the current state of the Flotilla and what is a proud history. This year in June nearly all the living Submarine Qualified Commanding Officers got together to celebrate 100 years of the Perisher and there was considerable chatter about the current state of the Flotilla and Government commitment to it. This is supposed to be the ‘Year of the Royal Navy’ but apart from HMS Queen Elizabeth, I can’t see it. Of course, there is jam tomorrow in the form of the four Dreadnought Trident submarines with a £31bn budget with £10bn contingency fund to build the successor submarines to the Vanguard class. This is good news, but the building rate of the Astute class is dreadfully slow and seven is just not enough. We need twelve at least and quickly but where is the political will?

While numbers and capability has been reduced to dangerous levels recruiting is a big challenge and the cuts of 2010 have left their mark. The strength of the Royal Navy in September 2017 was 22,470 plus 6,620 Royal Marines – a total of 29,420.

The submarine service in September 2017 had 840 officers and 3170 ratings making a total of 4,010. This is depressingly small. Despite these figures, submariners remain as stoical as ever. Jerry Hendrix in the National Review stated in May 2017 that “The Russian Bear has emerged from a long hibernation to threaten American and NATO interests with highly capable submarines in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. But neither the United States nor its allies are prepared to meet the Kremlin’s challenge.” And he argued that NATO had to strengthen its ASW equipment, skills, sensors and platforms.

Russian submarines

The new threat? A Russian Kilo class SSK and a Victor III class SSN

The Anti-Submarine Warfare [ASW] capability of the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force is at an all-time low. Just 20 years ago we were the best in the world and admired by NATO nations, the USA and the Russians. What has happened is a loss of assets and a complete failure by Government and the Ministry of Defence to realise the importance of this defence capability.

ASW is not just a legacy of the Cold War when submarine, towed array frigates with helicopters and maritime air all ensured that Russian submarines never got the upper hand. In 1993 as Chief of Staff to Flag Officer Submarines I visited Severomorsk and met with the Commander of the Northern Fleet who admitted to me that the Royal Navy’s ASW capability was much better and a real challenge for them.

Some would say that the submarine threat has reduced significantly since the end of the Cold War but today Russia is expanding its submarine force again and is choosing to test our resolve by deploying into the Atlantic, and further afield together with Russian Bear MPAS and threatening our shores and making efforts to track our Trident submarines as they leave their Faslane base.

Despite protests from Governments and NATO the chilling fact is that the organisations, relationships, intelligence, and capabilities that once supported a strong ASW network in the North Atlantic no longer exist. NATO, and the UK, are in a bad place with regard to Russia’s underwater resurgence. “Two things have happened” naval historian Norman Polmar has said. “One, their submarines are quieter, and two, we have dismantled a large portion of our ASW capabilities.” Developing an effective ASW capability requires the marrying of several layers of capability. Each layer has a particular function, contributing to the overall effectiveness of the UK’s ASW performance. And this includes systems and skills.

We have lost the Nimrod MPA which was so good, SOSUS has gone, Towed array frigates like the Batch 2 Type 22 have been sold for small sums to other nations. The air gap is filled at the tactical level by the Royal Navy’s Merlin HM1 ASW helicopter and its AQS-950 dipping sonar. Required to prosecute a submerged target quickly, Merlin operates from its host platform, a Type 23 frigate. The Royal Navy will have around 40 Merlins, scheduled to stay in service until 2029. What is far from clear is if and for how long these numbers can survive sustained spending cuts.

Nine new Boeing P-8 Poseidon MPA have been ordered but they are not due until 2020 and they are not enough. Seven planned Astute Class SSNs is just so far off the force levels required that it will be difficult to deploy as we used to between 1970 and 2000. It is simply not enough if it is to be deployed East of Suez and be Tomahawk capable. The Type 26 frigate, the UK’s indigenous variant of the Global Combat Ship concept, will replace the Type 23s as a multi-purpose but primarily ASW platform.

The submarine threat is a significant national security issue, not just a Cold War hangover. The UK remains committed to a minimum independent strategic nuclear deterrent. Whether it is a Russian Akula or another nation’s submarine showing an interest, the single SSN supporting the deterrent is a critical strategic asset. And so is the MPA.

But an effective ASW capability is not just about protecting the deterrent. The oceans remain largely impermeable, where the simple – confirmed or otherwise – presence of a submarine can deny the use of a geographical area (as the Argentinians found out in 1982) because the risk of operating a strategic asset there is too great. Many nations are now investing in submarine capabilities. And these could pose a threat to commercial shipping transiting key maritime choke points around the world, or sea-based logistics chains supporting operations such as in Afghanistan – which a submarine is well placed to expose and exploit.

Apart from spending money on kit we can do more. First write a new UK ASW strategy that considers the Russian submarine threat and capability now and potential for the future. And then plan force levels to match the threat. Secondly, create a new ASW “Centre of Excellence” that can bring NATO’s navies together to create common NATO anti-submarine warfare tactics. And thirdly, technological readiness setting up a NATO standard for encrypted transmission of ASW sensor data.

So, it is high time to take a serious look at the SSN numbers and the UK’s ASW capability and invest heavily in those layers of capability – MPA, Towed array frigates, ASW helicopters, and above all more SSNs. It would be nothing short of dereliction of duty not to do so.

Main image: HMS Trenchant conducts a personnel transfer during Exercise Saxon Warrior, 2017. (US Navy photo)


from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-state-of-the-royal-navy-submarine-flotilla-and-uk-asw-capability/

Will Devonport naval base survive the next round of cuts to the Royal Navy?

There are strong indications that the RN is going to be forced to axe HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark and cut between 1,000 – 1,500 Royal Marines. There are even suggestions that some of the Type 23 frigates maybe decommissioned early. The loss of these assets, together with the planned disposal of HMS Ocean casts a long shadow over Plymouth and the future of Devonport Naval Base.

A jewel in the crown

Devonport is the largest naval dockyard in Western Europe and has a history dating back to the 1500s. This exceptional facility is the envy of many navies and boasts 14 dry docks, 25 tidal berths and 5 basins spread over 4 miles of waterfront.

Currently, Devonport is the base port for the 3 large amphibious ships, 7 Type 23 frigates, ice patrol ship – HMS Protector and 3 hydrographic survey ships. The 3 remaining Trafalgar class submarines are also based there but HMS Triumph and Talent will move to Faslane by 2020, while HMS Trenchant will decommission. All submarines will then be based at Faslane and only major refits conducted in Devonport.

The Submarine Refit Complex (SRC) was constructed at great cost in the 1970s, and further upgraded between 1997-2002. It is the only facility in the UK that can carry out the complex re-fuelling and de-fuelling of nuclear submarines. The PWR2 Core-H reactor fitted to the Vanguard and Astute class were designed not to require mid-life refuelling but HMS Vanguard is currently in Devonport being refuelled after unexpected issues were discovered with the land-based Core-H test reactor. While very unwelcome news for the navy, it will be good news for Devonport, should the other 3 Vanguard class require mid-life refuelling. Even if Devonport was closed as a naval base, the refitting of nuclear submarines is likely to continue well into the future. Devonport also has an unspoken ‘shadow role’ as the only realistic alternative base for the nuclear deterrent and attack submarines in the unfortunate event of Scottish independence.

There are currently 13 decommissioned nuclear submarines lying in Devonport awaiting disposal with more to come. Further reductions in active vessels based there adds to the perception that the site is becoming a “nuclear graveyard”. The delays in disposing of these old boats are reasonable grounds for complaint but, whatever the future of the base, these hulks will soon begin the slow process of de-fuelling and recycling in the SRC.

Also built in the 1970s, the 3 covered dry docks in the Frigate Refit Complex (FRC) are a unique facility and are currently in use upgrading the Type 23s. The FRC will not be able to accommodate the 7,000 ton Type 26 frigates but the smaller Type 31e would almost certainly fit in the 130-metre dry docks.

RM Tamar is a purpose-built home for the 1st Assault Group with their landing craft, boats and hovercraft sensibly co-located with the assault ship berths. Plans to dispose of the amphibious ships would undermine the purpose of RM Tamar, completed in 2013 at a cost of £30 Million. 42 Commando Royal Marines, based at Bickleigh, just outside Plymouth has already been reduced in strength but it is not yet clear which of the other RM Commandos may be cut, should the plan to axe up to 1,500 marines be implemented. RM Stonehouse, headquarters of 3 Commando Brigade is already slated for closure and further cuts to the Marines are bound to impact on Plymouth.

Devonport is also home to Flag Officer Sea Training which prepares all RN warships to fight and survive in realistic training scenarios. FOST is a globally-respected organisation and several European navies send also their ships to Plymouth for training, providing valuable income for the MoD. Vessels undergoing FOST make up more than half of the shipping movements around Plymouth. This activity might give the casual observer the impression that the Devonport Flotilla is larger than it really is.

The extensive facilities of the Fleet Accommodation Centre at HMS Drake

The fortunes of the navy and Plymouth intertwined

Although the size of the workforce has fallen in proportion to the declining navy, the base still employs around 2,500 civilians and supports a further 400 local companies. Directly or indirectly, the navy provides work for 20,000 people in the Plymouth area and generates about 10% of the city’s income. Distant from economic powerhouse of London and the industrial Midlands, the city has always relied on naval work to sustain its economy. Concern about the future of the base has been an issue for decades and Plymouth has already tried hard to diversify its economy. Further reductions or complete closure would be devastating for Plymouth as there few highly skilled alternative jobs available. While the city has benefited from the employment and the people the navy has brought in over the centuries, so the government should remember its debt to the city for its loyalty, especially in the dark times of war.


From a pure ‘cost efficiency’ perspective, when the size of the surface fleet falls below a certain threshold it will call into question the need for bases at both Devonport and Portsmouth. The Treasury may see long-term savings from operating just one Dockyard and profits from the sale of prime waterfront property but there is a strong operational need for both bases. Apart from the enormous investment that has gone into both Devonport and Portsmouth right up until recent times, it is very unwise to place all your eggs in one basket.

Devonport has almost double the space of Portsmouth and does not experience the same level of commercial shipping traffic as the congested Solent area. Plymouth is also better placed for access to the Western Approaches and naval training areas. Plymouth Sound provides a fine natural anchorage and it would be difficult for potential enemies to blockade the base with mines or sunken ships. Should a major conflict erupt, Devonport would be critical in supporting not just the RN, but the warships and submarines of our NATO allies.

Devonport has traditionally been the navy’s main frigate base and there remains a strong case for basing them all there in future. If Devonport remains open and ships have to be “shared equally” between bases, then Plymouth could reasonably argue that Portsmouth has the aircraft carriers and Type 45s. BAE Systems already has a large staff in Portsmouth and, as Type 26 is ‘their product’, they are likely to win the maintenance contract. This may be an argument used for basing them in Portsmouth. The Type 31e programme is less certain, with only 5 ships planned for now, although potentially Babcock (who run and own the lease on Devonport site) may contribute to the programme, making Devonport a good fit.

Like two bald men fighting over a comb, arguments between cities about base porting (and naming) of frigates that have not even been ordered yet are depressing and should not be unnecessary. The RN needs both dockyards for different reasons. Obviously, a real expansion of the Navy and an end to the cycle of cuts that have decimated the fleet would be the best way to make this issue go away.

Politics and petitions

Plymouth City Council and Local MPs Luke Pollard, Johnny Mercer and Gary Streeter have all vowed to fight the proposed cuts. Labour MP, Luke Pollard’s online petition has almost reached 20,000 signatures so the MoD has provided the usual ‘cut and paste’ response that “no decisions have been made as yet”. Petitions and local campaigns are probably doomed to fail anyway when decisions about plugging a £20 Billion black hole in the equipment programme are being taken in London. What might ultimately carry greater weight is the threat to Tory seats, should the cuts go ahead. The current government is weak and lacking a majority, needing every Tory MP it can muster. Another election is a distinct possibility and severe naval cuts could cost Johnny Mercer and Gary Streeter their seats.

Before the people of Plymouth rush to vote Labour, they might want to consider that the end of Trident nuclear submarine refits is more likely to finish Devonport than the loss of the amphibious ships. Officially the Labour party still supports the renewal of Trident but if Jeremy Corbyn, a former chairman of CND, ever became Prime Minister, the deterrent’s days would probably be numbered.

The outcry about threats to Devonport are understandable but from the broader perspective of what is best for the Navy, the pressure exerted by one local interest group maybe be unhelpful. If cuts to the amphibious capability were to be blocked, the cuts will simply fall elsewhere on some other critical part of the navy. Instead of running self-interested local campaigns, MPs from across the country could achieve something much greater by uniting to force the government to provide new funds for defence.

The navy does not exist just to support local jobs, it exists to protect the economy and security of the whole nation. This is a fight for the future of the navy, not just Devonport.

The most likely scenario is that Devonport will remain open as a much-diminished naval base, supporting the remaining frigates and hydrographic squadron while continuing to refit nuclear submarines. If the amphibious capability is axed, then government must move quickly and commit to basing all the Type 26 and 31e frigates at Devonport to guarantee its future beyond the mid-2020s. It would be reckless and strategically unwise to close Devonport and attempt to base the entire surface fleet in one location.

Main image: Maps data ©2017 Google



from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/will-devonport-naval-base-survive-the-next-round-of-cuts-to-the-royal-navy/