HMS Queen Elizabeth sails for the first time today. Here’s the plan.

This afternoon HMS Queen Elizabeth is due to cast off lines ready to depart from the fitting out berth in Rosyth Dockyard to begin sea trials. Taking the ship out of the basin and down the river Forth will be a complex and delicate evolution.

Before HMS Queen Elizabeth can put to sea, she has to have a certificate of seaworthiness. This is a basic safety requirement and ensures the hull is watertight and the propulsion and steering are functioning correctly. Although she has extensive automated centralised safety systems, fire-fighting, escape and lifesaving equipment must all be inspected and proved to be working correctly. The scale of the ship makes such tasks a considerable job, for example, there are 750 watertight doors on the ship, each requiring 3-4 man hours of testing. Checks to obtain sign off on this important paperwork have continued right up to the last minute before sailing. Some parts of the ship were constructed almost 8 years ago (in separate blocks around the UK, before arriving for assembly in Rosyth). For the past weeks, the ship has been a hive of activity as everything is re-checked and tested. Finally, before departure, temporary services such a ventilation, power supplies and lighting used by the building contractors must all be removed along with waste materials, scaffolding and tools.

Through the eye of the needle

A simple simulation showing the approximate plan for departure.

To leave the fitting out basin, the ship must be swung around using tugs and then carefully towed out through the very narrow tidal lock. A high tide is required to give the ship maximum clearance over the lock gates. There will just 50cm between the keel and the gates. This operation will be challenging, has extremely fine tolerances can only be conducted in light winds. The main hull of the QE will fit through the lock with a tiny clearance of just 35cm on either side. The blocks used to build the ship were floated in through this lock but the completed vessel is of course, much longer, heavier and has very large overhanging decks. The operation will call for the use of 11 tugs and considerable time has been spent planning the evolution and rehearsing in a simulator.

Ducking under the bridges

Once out of the basin the ship will go to anchor for several hours, awaiting low tide (just before midnight) which is needed to pass safely under the bridges. She will proceed at no more than 4 knots, any faster and suction effect pulls the ship toward the riverbed, a shallow water phenomenon known as ‘squat’. An extensive survey effort to determine the clearance under the bridges and depth of water has been conducted by an Army and Naval Hydrographic team. (You can read about it in more detail here). Modern laser range-finding methods have been double checked by the captain himself using his own sextant (patented in 1845).

Both road bridge decks flex in the wind and can move up or down by as much as 3 meters, depending on the wind strength and loads. The surveys concluded there is about 2 meters clearance between the highest fixed point on the ship (the main Type 1046 air search radar) and the road bridge decks at low tide. Once past the bridges, QE will anchor downriver in Kirkcaldy Bay for a time. As is standard with all new ships, various checks will be conducted to see how the ship has flexed or settled after being in open water for the first time. The process from leaving the fitting out basin, to anchoring off Kircaldy will take more than 10 hours.

HMS Queen Elizabeth Mast Pivot

The pole mast that carries communication aerials on the aft island was designed with bridges in mind. It is hinged so it can be tilted forward 60º by hydraulic rams.

The narrow lock that the ship must traverse to leave the basin at Rosyth.

The view from basin, looking South East down the Forth estuary towards the three bridges the ship must pass beneath.

Initial sea trials

HMS Queen Elizabeth is not yet commissioned into the Royal Navy, remains the property of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance flying the Blue Ensign until it is agreed she meets specification and is formally handed over. Captain Jerry Kyd has responsibility for the ship but must operate under the direction of the sea trials manager appointed by the builder. The initial trials will be conducted in two phases in the North Sea, mostly between the Moray Firth and Fair Isle. Phase 1 is expected to take around 6 weeks and will concentrate on proving the propulsion, power and auxiliary systems. The ship needs sea room for full power trials and will also be conveniently out of the public gaze, allowing the MoD to control information about her progress.

Another significant milestone will be achieved when the first aircraft to lands on the carrier. A Merlin Mk2 of 820 Naval Air Squadron have this honour, around 4 days after QE puts to sea and will provide the first opportunity to conduct personnel and stores transfers.

When complete, the ship will come alongside in Rosyth for the builders to rectify any issues discovered during trials. Assuming this only takes a few days, QE will depart again for Phase 2, which will focus on proving mission systems, radars and communications. Expected to take around 5 weeks, when phase 2 is complete QE will then set course for Portsmouth to make her grand entrance into her homeport for the first time. The dredging work and construction of the new Princess Royal Jetty is now complete and Portsmouth Naval Base is ready to receive the ship.

The sea trials plan is ‘subject to change’

The ship is essentially a prototype design and going to sea will inevitably throw up a few unexpected issues. The discovery of defects, or perhaps even fewer defects than expected, may result in changes to the program. However, if QE is able to keep to this approximate schedule then she would be expected in Portsmouth in late September or early October. It should be noted the project still remains well on schedule to meet the agreed target of delivering the ship to the RN by the end of 2017

Once home, QE is expected to remain in Portsmouth for around 8 weeks for further defect rectification. It is planned to conduct heavy weather trials in the North Atlantic in the first quarter of 2018 and HMS Queen Elizabeth should achieve Initial Operating Capability by the end of 2020. For more detail on the long-term plans, see the infographic – Timeline for delivering carrier strike


Last time it was done – from the BBC archive, HMS Ark Royal on sea trials in the North Sea, 1985.


from Save the Royal Navy

Up close with HMS Queen Elizabeth

In this photo-essay, we go aboard the largest warship ever constructed for the Royal Navy as she prepared to leave Rosyth to put to sea for the first time. This is not an exhaustive tour (the ship is made up of over 3,000 compartments) but gives an overview of some key features.

The scale of HMS Queen Elizabeth is obvious as you approach the vessel, but upon stepping aboard, the feeling of size and spaciousness is magnified by the unusually wide and high passageways around the ship. The immediate impression is that she is quite unlike HMS Ocean or her Invincible class predecessors and is very much a ship of the 21st Century. It is clear she is robustly constructed, designed to survive action damage and serve the nation for up to 50 years. Strength, safety and survivability are obvious from the equipment fit, heavy watertight doors and subdivision and designed to mitigate against fire, flood and blast.

Many critics have asked why build such big ships? Not only does this make aircraft operations easier, but spare capacity will allow for easier upgrading to support new generations of aircraft and UAVs in the coming decades. In extremis, large numbers of extra personnel and stores could be embarked.

Great consideration has been given to ergonomics and accessibility to minimise the overall manpower requirements and workload on the crew. For example in older vessels, storing the ship for sea would require most of the ship’s company to form a chain, manually pass boxes and strike them down into storerooms. On the QE, store ship can be done in a harbour with around 20 people thanks to automated lifts and carefully planned access routes. (Additional seamen would be required when conducting a replenishment at sea). Another example is the Highly Mechanised Weapon Handling System (HMWHS) that moves ammunition around the ship and requires only around 30 people to operate.

Hangar and Lifts

The ship has been designed from the outset to embark four squadrons of aircraft. Initially, there will be helicopter squadrons and then a single F-35 squadron. It will be well into the 2030s before the UK has enough F-35s to embark two squadrons (of approximately 12-aircraft each). US Marine Corps aircraft are likely to be frequent visitors and may even embark a full squadron at times. The air management organisation (on 2 deck aft), provides each of the four aircraft squadrons with their own spacious offices and mission planning spaces. There is also a large group briefing room/lecture theatre. The movement of aircrew from their accommodation to briefing rooms and on to their aircraft has been carefully designed to be as quick and easy as possible, in contrast to older carriers.

Control positions

Spacing out the main machinery into two almost separate systems is the primary reason for the unique twin-island design of the QE. This separation requires funnel uptakes that are a distance away from each other. This arrangement makes the ship’s propulsion particularly resistant to action damage. The Flyco is now entirely separate from the bridge and this will take some adjustment for experienced carrier operators who are used to having flying control team close to the navigation team. This also offers additional redundancy, as the aft island could act as an emergency conning position or forward island as Flyco if the other is damaged.

As currently configured, QE has 6 aircraft operating spots (this could be increased if needed in future). With around 45 meters between each spot, this provides a large safety margin. There 3 areas of the flight deck that have been coated with TMS (Thermal Metal Spray). This coating prevents damage to the steel deck plates from the fierce heat of the F-35B jetwash, when landing vertically and conducts the heat away, preventing damage to aircraft tyres.

The F-35 is coated with radar absorbent material which is relatively fragile. The aircraft must be handled more carefully than older generation jets. Some critics have suggested it will degrade rapidly in the harsh marine environment (it is reportedly standing up well to harsh desert wind and sand in the US). The flight deck has blue markings down the aft port side where F-35s can be parked overhanging the deck, although they will be probably kept down in the hangar as much as possible. When on the flight deck, it is planned helicopters will usually be parked on the starboard side, clustered around the islands.

QE is designed to operate up to 40 aircraft in her main Carrier Strike role. When operating in the Littoral Manoeuvre role she can embark a maximum of 43 helicopters. It should be noted that it will be some years before the UK has enough aircraft to send to sea in these numbers. The mix of aircraft types embarked will vary depending on the mission and availability – this is the concept is known as the Tailored Air Group.

Living on board

Without the air group or an embarked military force, the regular ship’s company now amounts to more than 700, of which around 100 are officers. There appears to already have been a small rise in the number of personnel required, beyond the original target of 679. Delivering such a high-profile project as the QE class aircraft carriers in a glare of publicity demands the RN get it absolutely right. Particularly at senior levels, many of those appointed to serve on the QE represent the cream of the RN surface fleet. There is considerable accumulated naval experience and for some this represents the culmination of their career and ambitions. For a few, QE will be their first experience of going to sea, sailors ages range from as young as 17 right up to 58 year old veterans. During this tour the ship was buzzing with activity but talking to members of the ship’s company both junior and senior, there is an assuring sense of calm professionalism and pride.

The crew have been living on board for over a month and this helps build team spirit and an emotional attachment to the ship. The Commanding Officer, Captain Jerry Kyd must establish a positive ethos and reputation that will lay the foundation for potentially 50 years of service to the nation. After completion of the ‘fast cruise’ in early June, the ship’s company continued to conduct drills and tests to build confidence before sailing, even as civilian contractors completed the final work on the ship.

The ship must become a home before it is a warship and the accommodation standards are the best in the Navy. Building on the pattern set by the Type 45 destroyers, junior rates have 6 berth cabins with bunks that are 3 ft wide, an improvement on the narrow beds fitted on older ships. The large single mess squares adopted on the Type 45 destroyers have been adapted slightly as some feel this can be a little impersonal. The junior rates messes on QE are divided into smaller communal areas for relaxing. Good accommodation is an important factor in efficiency and morale. It also aids retention of sailors in a navy short of people, competing with comfortable civilian jobs ashore.

More images at large size available here: tour

All photos ©copyright 2017.


from Save the Royal Navy

HMS Queen Elizabeth gets ready for departure from Rosyth

HMS Queen Elizabeth is now very close to being ready to leave the fitting out basin in Rosyth for around 10 weeks of sea trials. 

Living on board

The Ship Staff Move on Board (SSMOB) date was achieved on 26th May and her crew have moved from shoreside accommodation are now living on the ship. Living on board allows the ship’s company to become familiar with their new home, socialise together in the mess, personalise cabins and make the living spaces their own. The forward part of the ship is now in full use and comprises of; The forward galley – one of five galleys on board, six chefs serve daily breakfasts, lunches and dinners to the 700 men and women of the Ship’s Company. Medical Complex– or ‘sick bay’ will provide routine patient consultations and clinics, as well as urgent medical treatment, minor operations and dentistry. Living Quarters – The QE class carriers have modern, comfortable accommodation with 1,600 bunks in 470 cabins. Each member of Ship’s Company will be able to use the state of the art facilities on board including a cinema and fitness suite with personnel also having access to e-mail and the internet.

Sailing when conditions are right

The Navy and government is understandably keen to announce the date she will sail, as soon as it is known (after the election). The Aircraft Carrier Alliance who remain the owners of the ship are however, less comfortable to commit publicly to a date. The first possible tidal window when the ship could leave some time between 21st and 24th June but departure at that time is not certain. The weather and especially the wind conditions, will probably be a deciding factor. The decision to sail may only be announced at quite late notice. Media speculation and interest will be considerable and there is pressure to get the ship to sea as soon as possible. However wise heads will ensure it is done safely and at the right moment, even if this means delaying until the next tidal window.

Before any new or recently refitted ship goes to sea, the crew usually conduct a ‘fast cruise’ alongside where everything is operated and tested as if the ship was at sea. HMS Queen Elizabeth’s fast cruise is expected to be run for around 10 days in early June.

No there is not a “morale crisis”

On 6th June The Portsmouth News published an article that claimed that morale on board “was at an all time low” and 21 “depressed” sailors from the ship had “resigned in one week”. One would expect the local paper to be enthusiastically supporting carriers which are of such importance to the city, rather than publishing sensationalist and inaccurate gossip that is detrimental to the reputation of the navy and its centrepiece project.

While some sailors will have resigned while the ship has been alongside, it takes around a year for them to leave and the numbers leaving are below the 4.7% average VO (Voluntary Outflow) across the fleet as a whole. It is true the RN does have a shortage of manpower and the carriers are part of the issue but a lack of manpower will not prevent the sailing and commissioning of HMS Queen Elizabeth. Her Captain Jerry Kyd should be congratulated for maintaining high morale of the crew working on a ship during its construction, mostly living away from their families in Scotland for an extended period. There is of course, considerable anticipation amongst the ship’s company as the time for her go to sea gets closer, resignations are very unlikely to increase in the near future.

Latest imagery

This video from the Aircraft Carrier Alliance shows the ship’s company moving on board.


The flight deck finally emerges from the scafolding and painting tents

A rating inspects her bunk space for the first time

Looking forward to going to sea on the Royal Navy’s Largest ever ship


from Save the Royal Navy

Should the RN consider buying conventional submarines, even at the expense of frigates?

The 2015 Defence Review promised the UK would build a new ‘cheaper and simpler’ frigate to complement the more expensive Type 26. This Type 31 frigate offers the attractive possibility that the total number of Royal Navy warships could be increased, albeit after 2030. Threats to surface ships continue to proliferate, adding to the challenge of making the Type 31 a credible warship. Meanwhile, the undeniably potent RN submarine fleet is far too small. Here we ask if the RN should prioritise expanding its submarine force with the same enthusiasm it applies to frigates.

The predominant concern in recent discussions about the strength of the RN has been around the need for more frigates. There is no argument that surface escort numbers are at a very low level indeed. If current programmes run on time, the Royal Navy will need to manage with 19 frigates and destroyers until 2030 at the earliest. We have written previously about the value of investment in capability of OPV’s to ensure warships deploy in combat roles rather than undertake constabulary and humanitarian missions, and this will hold true for at least the next 14 years – retaining Batch 1 OPV’s in service would be helpful in this respect, particularly given incoming pressures on Royal Navy to patrol the UK EEZ post-Brexit.

It is also clear that in the interim, the Royal Navy will need to invest in weapons and emerging technologies to maximise capabilities of Type 45 and Type 23. A replacement for Harpoon, installing Mk 41 VLs on T45 and expanding use of unmanned platforms are medium term aspirations. Beyond that, directed energy weapons, advanced decoys, and torpedo defence measures will be needed for the surface ship to survive in the ever-more demanding naval environment of the future. As ever in discussions about future equipment, ensuring there is sufficient trained manpower available both in the short and long-term is critically important.

Setting aside what happens in the immediate future, the Royal Navy would ideally want to have at least 24 surface combatants to meet standing deployments and provide sufficient numbers to independently sustain a carrier task group without partner nation support. This is still well below the size of the fleets of the past, but there is an acceptance that modern surface combatants have become increasingly expensive to build, and numbers have to be constrained. The French Navy is planning just 15 frigates and destroyers of varying capability as the core of its future surface fleet.

The reasons behind increasing cost are relatively clear – the modern frigate needs to have a broad spectrum of offensive capability, as well as being able to self-protect against sophisticated electronic and cyber warfare, complex anti-shipping missiles (including hypersonic and potentially ballistic weapons) and the enduring threat of the submarine. In a future conflict, the absence of any these capabilities will leave any surface combatant extremely vulnerable.

Speaking up for the silent service

Lurking on the margins of the debate about surface combatant numbers is the painful truth that the surface fleet is fairing relatively well compared to the submarine service. Whilst the Astute class submarines entering into service are extremely capable, only seven are planned and these will be spread thin especially when assigned to support future carrier task group operations, conduct independent patrols and protect the deterrent submarines. Procuring additional SSN’s seems unlikely, not least because they are ferociously expensive. The latest boat, HMS Audacious is priced at a staggering £1,492m.

There are alternatives. The development of advanced diesel-electric hunter-killer submarines (SSK) such as the German Type 212 enables extended periods of submersion of up to three weeks. Battery technology continues to improve it could even supplant the complex Air Independent Propulsion(AIP) systems currently required. Whilst lacking the global reach of an SSN, at around £500 million the initial outlay is marginally more than the likely cost of a Type 31 frigate, but with much lower through-life costs, with a typical complement of 30, compared with around 100+ for a frigate.

Although more limited in some aspects of capability than a frigate modern SSK’s enjoy a number of advantages over surface combatants not least that they are extremely hard to detect and as a result very hard to destroy. They have also proven highly effective – in an exercise in 2013 the U-32 eluded the entire anti-submarine warfare capability of a US carrier group and succeeded in firing dummy torpedoes, effectively sinking the carrier.

As a result SSK’s continue to pose a threat to opposing naval forces which need to commit significant resources to anti-submarine warfare, and are increasingly capable of deploying a broader range of technologies including mast mounted UAV’s, guns (for patrol or constabulary duties), alongside anti-shipping, surface to air and land attack missiles. Smaller and more agile, SSK ideally suited for operations in shallower littoral waters – close into shore to deploy special forces, or in the Gulf, for example – where SSN’s may be less effective. For the RN, a small fleet of SSKs would be invaluable for operations around the UK and in European waters, providing the first line of defence against foreign submarines, providing a step-change in UK ASW capability. More boats would reduce the enormous pressure on the undersized submarine force and release the SSNs for global deployment. Small conventional boats are far better suited for training, particularly for officers to gain command experience before graduating to the SSNs and SSBNs. At present, the RN must either conduct training using its precious and very expensive SSNs or rely on sending personnel to train on allied submarines. The surface fleet would also benefit from greater ASW training opportunities and a different kind of opponent.

Constraints on submarine construction capacity

The Barrow shipyard, the UK’s only submarine construction facility, will be busy completing Astutes and then Dreadnought SSBN orders into the late 2030’s. Delays in Dreadnought procurement mean that some of the Astute SSN’s currently entering service may need to be decommissioned before manufacturing capability is free to build their replacement. Assuming the Astute boats do not need mid-life reactor refuelling, as was the intention at the start of the project, HMS Astute’s reactor will reach the end of its life and she will need replacing by the next generation SSN by 2035 at the latest.

Including an advanced SSK building programme in the National Ship Building Strategy for the 2030’s onwards could deliver continuity in submarine design capability beyond completion of the Dreadnought programme and provide a bridge in manufacturing and capability until the Astute replacement is available.

The SSNs must remain the RN’s priority but design and procurement for SSKs would need to start sometime around 2022 and could help to significantly de-risk pressures on the Astute replacement, as well as offering a much-needed boost in submarine numbers from 2030 onwards. Expanding manufacturing capability to build smaller non-nuclear submarines also appears a more affordable option than significantly increasing the rate of SSN construction and could one day offer export potential.

Royal Navy Submarine construction Schedule

The infographic above illustrates the approximate decommissioning, construction and replacement schedule for the Royal Navy’s submarines (Click here for larger version), together with a proposal to acquire SSKs.

The funding the build-up of additional skilled manpower together with expanded facilities to build conventional submarines in the UK would be a very significant challenge. Although potentially politically unattractive, purchasing the hulls and propulsions systems directly ‘off the shelf’, constructed in Germany which has years of specialist SSK design & manufacturing experience, would be a considerably quicker and cheaper alternative. (France, Sweden and Japan also have SSK design and build capability that could be considered). This would go aginst the long-standing government policy of not building fighting vessels abroad but they could at least be fitted out in the UK with RN standard weapons and electronics. Alternatively, an existing SSK design could be licenced from abroad and technical experts brought to the UK to assist with the project.

Choices, choices…

Any expansion in RN warship numbers is a long way off, and sustaining or improving the capability of current and planned vessels, and supporting the necessary manpower to make them useful must remain a priority.

Looking beyond 2030, the Royal Navy needs to ensure the best balance in terms of overall capability to project power and defend the UK’s interests at sea. Frigates will remain essential for sea control purposes and as escorts for capital ships, but ‘wont of frigates’ must not be the only consideration in deciding on the overall shape of the fleet.

If the Royal Navy can cope with 19 surface combatants over the next 13 years (which it will have to do in even the best-case ship building scenario) it may do well to consider investing more heavily in expanding the submarine service which offers a different but equally effective way to project power. A mixed hunter-killer fleet of twelve or more SSN and SSK, alongside around twenty frigates and destroyers, looks a far more balanced proposition, and potentially better value for money, than increasing frigate numbers alone.

The benefits of additional submarines are considerable. Even if some funds were diverted from frigate construction, it should be recognised that building, manning and generating a new infrastructure to support advanced SSKs presents a difficult, but not insurmountable task, that would need considerable political backing.

Thanks for John Dunbar for the major contribution to this article


from Save the Royal Navy

Defence Procurement: the role played by Contractors in delays and cost overruns

The share of blame attributed to the Ministry of Defence for delays and cost overruns has been extensively documented over the decades. But what is the role of MoD’s other half of the partnership, the defence contractors, in this epic tale of failure? In his first article, Jag Patel identified deep-seated problems that have plagued the existing, flawed defence procurement process. In this article, he examines the role played by contractors in delays and cost overruns, why it is important to apply the principles of natural justice and the need for professionalism in defence procurement.

The risk that new equipment procurement programmes will fall behind schedule is driven by three significant factors – all of them, entirely within the control of the Contractor:

  • Work allowed to commence without the full complement of Task Performers being assigned to the project performance team, right from the start.
  • Task Performers arbitrarily (and clandestinely) re-assigned to other priority work during the term of the Contract.
  • Task Performers, who are typically on one month’s notice corresponding to pay in arrears, abandon their posts for a better paid job elsewhere.

The practice of switching the most capable and smartest people (the ‘A’ Team members) from existing project commitments, to working on other contracts running concurrently which have gone ‘critical’, or to producing bid phase deliverables for ITT responses, is very common within Defence Contractors’ organisations – because the need to continually bring-in money or win new business takes priority over everything else, a foremost characteristic of for-profit organisations.

Indeed, such is their obsession with future income (and share price) that, once they have got a new contract in the bag, their attention immediately shifts onto chasing the next one – at the expense of compromising performance on the contract they have just won!

Paying the Price for treating task performers with contempt

This all too familiar scenario is further compounded by the fact that:

Contractors at every tier of the defence industry have mandated enforcement of a minimalist staffing policy of being just ‘one man’ deep in many of their specialist core functions, with no slack or succession plan – which unfortunately, also denies defence workers the opportunity to associate with like-minded people in the work environment, severely impeding their professional development.

  • In their desperation to quickly build-up their project performance teams to full strength following down-selection for the first contract performance phase, contractors have been less than honest with new employees (particularly those originating from the Public Sector) about their individual role in the project performance team, the job content and near-term prospects – because they are not bound by a ‘Code on Ethical Behaviour in Business’. Consequently, these newcomers have no choice but to align their personal and career goals with those of their new employer on the basis of what they are told. It is the disappointment of discovering a substantial gap between the reality on the ground and what they were led to believe at interview that causes these new starters to leave – creating yet more vacancies and disruption!
  • Instead of looking upon people on their payroll as human beings with hopes, fears and insecurities, individuals are treated like ‘economic units’ by Contractors – to be bought and sold like commodities, at will, in the free market to serve their own narrow commercial interests.
  • Recent years has seen the working relationship between Indirect and Direct labour types to be strained beyond breaking point on account of:
  1. The latter (who are all Task Performers, adding value by producing deliverables which attract payment from MoD) being compelled by the former to partake in activities which are contrary to their professional, ethical and moral convictions.  In turn, this has led to Direct labour types to accuse Indirect labour types of ‘living off their backs’ by charging MoD a ‘tax surcharge’ on their labour – creating, even more, bitterness and division.
  2. The duplicitous policy enforced by Indirect labour types of making bold pledges in Management Plans, and then promptly rescinding on these work commitments during the follow-on Contract performance phase has had the effect of disenfranchising Direct labour types because they think this is thoroughly deceitful behaviour.
  3. The burden of responsibility for executing the resultant grossly under-scoped Programme of Work falling on Task Performers, instead of those people on overheads who made the false, exaggerated claims about the maturity of the proposed Technical Solution in the first place.

Commitment and loyalty time-limited

Even more disturbingly, in the interests of furthering their careers in today’s mobile labour market, many defence industry workers especially those possessing highly marketable skills (the crème de la crème) are now willing to extend their commitment and loyalty only, as far as the next pay packet – having adopted this tactic from observing, at first hand, the behaviour of their own employers who have, for many years demonstrated their willingness to provide a service to MoD which extends only as far as the next milestone payment!  Worse still, whereas every Contractor has got a Staff Recruitment Policy, none has a Staff Retention Policy.

So when a programme in the Contract performance phase suffers a loss in personnel on the project performance team (usually those most difficult to replace), work on producing deliverables to schedule comes to an abrupt stop – leading to delays and ultimately, cost overruns.

A risk and associated cost burden that has traditionally been borne by the Ministry of Defence!

What’s more, Defence Contractors are also engaged in some pretty nefarious activities, like masking any delays attributable to themselves (for instance, because they haven’t got adequate numbers of skilled Task Performers), by building-in intervention from MoD Abbey Wood team members as a dependency into the Programme of Work schedule, citing partnership and/or collaborative working as a pretext, then deliberately stopping progress of planned work and disingenuously blaming MoD for the delay.

MoD Abbey Wood. Home of the Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation where around 8,000 civil servants manage procurement for the UK armed forces.

Task performers more important than apprentices

Defence Contractors have treated employees shabbily for decades and yet they have the gall to criticise the Government for the poor quality of skills possessed by young people emanating from the education system, when in fact, it is their responsibility to invest in specialised, on-the-job training for new employees so that they can, as Task Performers, perform the full range of job functions prevalent on defence contracts.

It is not the number of apprentices taken on by the Contractor that matters, but whether he has the full complement of suitably qualified and experienced Task Performers, who are able to undertake and complete the planned Programme of Work, during the follow-on Contract performance phase that is even more important.

Applying the Principles of Natural Justice

Public Servants have a greater duty to apply the Principles of Natural Justice than the rest of us. In no area of public policy are these fundamental principles being violated as in defence procurement.

The current practice of digging out old ITTs from the archives, searching & replacing the project name and promptly dispatching them off to Defence Contractors has resulted in the Principles of Natural Justice being routinely violated, because selection criteria essential to inform the decision on down-selection, phase-by-phase is omitted – leaving Bidders in the dark as to how their performance will be judged.

Under the Principles of Natural Justice, defence procurement officials are duty bound to inform Bidders what evaluation criteria they will be measured against, as they progress from one phase to another and what level of achievement constitutes satisfactory or not – given that taxpayers’ money is to be spent on procuring assets for public benefit, through the instrument of open competition. Not decide upon selection criteria on the spur of the moment, at the time of assessing the ITT response, as is currently the case!

Later, bidders removed from the contest will be denied the opportunity to complain that they had not been informed about the rules of the competition, to begin with – including a chance to challenge the final decision at Judicial Review.

Accordingly, it falls upon procurement officials to clearly state the rules by which they intend to prosecute the competition for each phase of the equipment acquisition programme, what penalties bidders are likely to face for not abiding by these rules, and for failing to comply with the requirements expressed in the ITT.

This means that procurement officials will need to have the talent to be able to express the whole of the requirement, in plain and clearly written English – in such a way, that it cannot be interpreted any other way than intended.

In addition, they should be single-mindedly impartial in their dealings with industry, that is, not take sides with one defence contractor or another. Procurement officials whose impartiality has been compromised cannot usefully contribute towards the achievement of team, departmental or organisational goals, nor is it in taxpayers’ best interests to have them remain on the public payroll.

The governing elite make great play of this country’s sense of fairness, respect for the rule of law and doing the right thing – yet, it seems that people in the pay of the State are exempt from having to abide by these same values!

MoD and its contractors tolerate the wet-finger-in-the-air technique

How is the engineering profession supposed to attract young, technically-literate people like graduates, technicians and apprentices into its fold when the real world they go into, later on in their career, will require them to act in an unprofessional manner?

In a report released last year, the Defence Select Committee of the House of Commons accused the Ministry of Defence of using ‘creative accounting’ practices to meet its NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP. What is less well known about MoD’s use of such under-hand tactics is that, it was the first to pioneer application of the wet-finger-in-the-air technique in the designing of military kit – more specifically, the most important aspect of defence equipment – its inherent reliability – which is an indicator of how frequently it will break-down when in service with the user, and therefore its cost of upkeep subsequently, through-life.

The main reason why MoD Abbey Wood has failed to build-in desired levels of reliability into diligently engineered products is because defence contractors have been using the thoroughly unprofessional, wet-finger-in-the-air technique of ‘divvying up’ the given MTBF (mean time between failures) figure among lower-level maintenance significant items – instead of employing the best practice method of determining overall system reliability ‘bottom up’ using measured failure rate figures (not predicted or estimated) derived from an up-to-date, Microsoft Access-based 4th Line data repository.

And from whom did contractors’ people learn this method of quantifying equipment reliability? Why, none other than from the Ministry of Defence!

To be precise, the famous here-today-gone-tomorrow procurement officials who have been freely applying this wet-finger-in-the-air technique during their short stay at MoD Abbey Wood before migrating to the defence industry, in overwhelming numbers, and infecting it by continuing to spread this lazy practice – which has, over the years, become regularised and embedded in commercial & engineering processes to the extent that objective, evidence-based scientific analysis and thinking which has exercised technically-literate people since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, has been suppressed. This disastrous situation has come about because 99% of people who end-up working in the defence industry were previously in the pay of the state – with no appreciation of what it takes to uphold the values of a true professional.

It should come as no surprise to MoD that all competing bids appear to be fully compliant with the reliability requirement claiming the same level of achievement, a figure slightly higher than that stated in the technical specification – thereby denying Abbey Wood Team Leader the opportunity to discriminate between technical solutions on the basis of inherent reliability.

So, instead of acting as a responsible great department of state and instilling professional values in its loyal employees, the Ministry of Defence has ended up doing the exact opposite!  It has made a mockery and laughing stock of the engineering profession – as practiced in the UK – especially in the eyes of European competitor nations, the United States and potential export governments in the Arabian Gulf region, the wider Middle East, North Africa, Latin America and emerging nations in the Asia-Pacific region – where the engineering profession is still regarded in high esteem, and remains an automatic career choice for many young people.


It is not only defence procurement officials who are to blame for the malaise afflicting defence procurement – defence contractors are equally culpable in creating a procurement culture which has failed to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces that is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.


Jag Patel is an independent Defence Procurement Adviser with over 30 years experience of researching, analysing and solving a wide range of entrenched procurement problems. He tweets as @JagPatel3
Views expressed in guest posts do not necessarily represent those of


from Save the Royal Navy

Can defence issues impact the election debate?

Ironically perhaps, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s pacifist stance has caused defence issues to take slightly greater prominence in the election campaign that might be expected. Tories have been quick to seize on Labour’s “weakness” on defence. Although they are right about Corbyn, the Tories are on very shaky ground saddled by their own poor record on defence. The electorate is again largely faced with a choosing between the lesser of two evils. While global threats continue to intensify, the sorry state of UK defence urgently needs to be treated as more than just a sideshow in the pre-election political Punch and Judy.

Another black hole opens

Back in 2010, the coalition government claimed that the outgoing Labour administration had left a £36 billion “black hole” in unfunded defence plans. This was used the excuse for the slash and burn 2010 defence review which did particular lasting damage to the Royal Navy. Within the space of just 2 years, the then Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond was claiming the MoD finances were now balanced and the department’s “hand to mouth existence would come to an end”. By April 2017 the cross-party House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was reporting another £10 billion “black hole” in the equipment plan has appeared. Whatever we believe about these financial holes and their causes, it is clear that chronic underfunding of defence continues, contrary to Tory claims. Despite moving the security services and MoD pensions into the “defence budget”, in 2015-16 we did not even manage to spend the 2% of GDP that the Tories pledged. The latest ONS/Treasury figures say it was actually 1.9%, a total of £34.8Bn.

Defence inflation is running at between 4-6% annually so the buying power of MoD declines each year. Economies of scale and well-managed procurement projects usually see the unit cost decline, but overall defence equipment becomes ever more complicated, expensive to purchase, man and support in service. A Type 26 frigate in 2017 is projected to cost at least £800m. The last Type 23 frigate, HMS St Albans built in 2002 cost around £100m. A Type 26 will be more capable than a Type 23, but not even London house prices can match an approximate price rise of 800% over less than 20 years.

Brexit has seen the Pound significantly devalued by around 20% and it may fall further. The UK intends to purchase around £28Bn worth of defence equipment from overseas, mainly from the United States, in the next 10 years. This leaves a large part of the defence budget exposed to unpredictable for foreign exchange fluctuations. How far the pound may fall as the effects of Brexit are felt are difficult to predict. Some economists predict devaluation could go down to 30%. Others are more optimistic that the Pound will bounce back, especially if the Euro should weaken. Brexit may have other impacts on the economy and the chancellor is known to be holding on to contingency funds, should there be more serious economic problems. A weakening pound is, therefore, a significant threat to future defence planning. The Treasury holds some foreign currency reserves but not enough to offset a long-term devaluation.

The Tories

On 10th May The Prime Minister promised defence spending “will rise by 0.5% above inflation every year to 2022”. Assuming inflation is around 2% then the defence budget would increase by nearly £5bn to £39.7bn by 2020-21. This rise in funding is likely to be mostly offset by the negative factors listed above but this is welcome news, although it is not clear if she had agreed on this with the Chancellor before making the announcement. Surprisingly in a survey of Tory party members, defence spending ranked as their highest concern.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon is under great pressure as his very robust claims about the healthy state of the armed forces and the MoD are at totally odds with the assessments of the Public Accounts Committee and virtually all independent commentators. At the start of 2017 Fallon stated that this would be the “year of the Royal Navy”. The foundations for this optimistic claim have been thoroughly debunked here, but for the Navy, it did represent something very positive. There is a feeling that Fallon understands the naval case is certainly enthusiastic about the aircraft carriers, Trident and believes maritime should play the leading role in UK defence strategy.

It is certainly welcome to have a Secretary of State who is upbeat about the RN and putting his credibility on the line over its future.  It is unfortunate that the resources his government provides the MoD are increasingly unable to match his rhetoric.

Michael Fallon keeps a straight face while saying “we are increasing the size of the Royal Navy”. Andrew Marr Show, BBC1, 14th May 2017

If Fallon’s year of the Royal Navy speech was optimistic, repeating his claim that we will have a bigger Royal Navy is stretching the truth to breaking point. The RN is increasing in size but only if we measure by total tonnage, a meaningless figure distorted by the large size of the aircraft carriers. There has been a vast reduction in hull numbers and since 2010, although we are bottoming out now. (More detail on recent Tory cuts to the RN here). Only if we get more than 5 Type 31 frigates could the fleet be described as having ‘grown’, and this remains a vague aspiration for something that is a decade away.

Publication of the National Shipbuilding Strategy has been delayed by the Purda restrictions of the election but the Type 31 Frigate programme offers a good opportunity for the Tories to strengthen the navy in a way which dovetails with their prosperity agenda and northern powerhouse policies. If the Treasury were to provide an additional £200M per year earmarked for the Type 31, it could create a stimulus for shipbuilding and industry across the UK and particularly in northern England.


The Labour leader is co-chairman of CND, has supported several terrorist organisations including the IRA, instinctively anti-American, anti-armed forces, opposed to NATO and argues all but two of Britain’s foreign military interventions since WWII were mistakes. His supporters claim “Jeremy is on a journey” and is softening these extreme views despite consistently held these ‘ideals’ for many decades as a maverick backbencher. This is shameless window dressing to make him appear more palatable as a potential Prime Minister.

Despite Tory failures on defence, most would agree the idea of Jeremy Corbyn & his shambolic cabinet running defence would be infinitely worse.

Corbyn has recently announced he wants to create an Orwellian sounding “Ministry of Peace” to sit between the MoD and the Foreign Office. Such apparently high-minded idealism is hopelessly at odds with the realpolitik that drives much of global politics and is music to the ears of Putin and his kind. Corbyn rightly suggests the UK should be “actively engaged in seeking peaceful solutions to the world’s problems”. But we stand much greater chance of getting those solutions if we are equipped with forces that can uphold international law and face down bullies and tyrants.

Corbyn anti Trident

The Labour manifesto says they would replace the Trident submarines. Jeremy Corbyn speaking at the Stop Trident rally, February 2016. Photo: Garry Knight via Flickr.

The Labour party election manifesto says they remain committed to Trident, while the leadership says they could never actually use nuclear weapons, thus undermining the point of a deterrent. There is chaos and division within the party over this and many other issues. Although it has some good MPs, Labour is clearly unfit to form a coherent government or be trusted with the security of the nation.

Fortunately, it looks very unlikely Corbyn will ever be Prime Minster. What is most concerning is the lack of effective opposition to hold the Tories accountable. On defence matters, in particular, Labour’s lack of credibility and confused thinking leaves the Defence Select Committee (with its limited powers), and a few well-meaning backbenchers as the only real challenge in Westminster to Tory mismanagement at the MoD.

SDSR 2018?

The election of Donald Trump and the Brexit vote are seen by some as reasons for another Defence review in 2018, ahead of the planned 2020 review. This is the view of the Prime Minister’s national security adviser, Mark Sedwill. There is some merit in the argument from a strategy perspective but without the promise of more funds, it would be a largely academic exercise and could cause more unhelpful disruption in the MoD.

An open letter to the Government on written on 11th May, signed former senior officers says the Prime Minister must confront “the need for a brutally honest appreciation of the budget for and capabilities of the UK’s armed forces”. But they argue we do not need another defence review because the 2015 SDSR equipment plan was essentially sound. However, they recognise that the promises of 2015 were never fully funded… “and if this means a commitment to increase expenditure over the lifetime of the Parliament, then do it”. 

A few reasons for optimism

Despite the large funding gap, it is better to have the promises made in the 2015 SDSR than just a bleak round of cuts that we had in 2010. The weakening pound may be a boost for UK warship exports and could make the Type 26 and 31 attractive to foreign buyers. The conditions created by Brexit further enhance the RN’s case at a time when Britain needs to show it remains engaged with the world. The RN is still the strongest navy in Europe, we should invest further in this useful asset which can contribute further to European security through NATO. New equipment is arriving, slow and in small numbers, though it maybe. The aircraft carriers and their aircraft are coming. The first Tide class tanker has arrived in the UK with 3 more soon to follow. The seven Astute class submarines are potentially the best SSNs in the world and construction of the first Type 26 frigate will begin in July.

The Tories are firmly behind Trident renewal programme which is central to both UK defence and the future of the RN. Although there are concerns about the cost there are encouraging signs that the programme will be managed very carefully. A respected financial troubleshooter from the Treasury, Julian Kelly was recently appointed Director General, Nuclear and the Dreadnought submarine programme will be managed with much more care and stricter financial control than typical defence projects.

It is interesting to note that while the Tories look likely to win the election convincingly, the leaders of all the other parties in Westminster (except the DUP) are anti-Trident; Jeremy Corbyn (Labour), Angus Robertson (SNP), Tim Farron (Lib Dem) and Caroline Lucas (Green). It would seem the electorate better understands the value of Trident than many Westminster liberals, a policy of unilateral disarmament is historically electoral suicide.

from Save the Royal Navy

HMS Daring’s deployment at the sharp end. Eventful. Successful. Important.

Today HMS Daring returned to Portsmouth after 9 months away, visiting 12 countries and steaming 50,000 miles. Another warship completing a Gulf tour could be considered somewhat routine for the RN but it demonstrates the Type 45 destroyers are reliable mature platforms, the enduring global reach of the RN and the conclusion to a job well done.


Daring sailed from Portsmouth on 2nd September 2016. She arrived to a warm welcome in Gibraltar where RN vessels help provide reassurance to the population while Spain continues to make illegal incursions in Gibraltar waters. Daring then sailed for a short stop-over in Malta. Sadly a member of the ship’s company, LET Simon Allen was killed in a car accident while ashore.

After passing through the Suez Canal, Daring joined ships of the RN’s Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) (JEF(M)), escorting HMS Bulwark, HMS Ocean, and MV Eddystone Point. American aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower handed over her role as flagship of Task Force 50 to HMS Ocean. Daring was part of this group of 7 warships, primarily conducting anti-ISIS and maritime security operations in the Persian Gulf. As well as providing air defence to the task group, Daring helped protect from the threat of waterborne attack, carrying boarding parties to counter piracy, terrorism and smuggling.

There has been a continuous presence of RN warship in the Gulf since the 1980s but the civil war in Yemen has created new threats in the Red Sea around the Bab-al-Mandeb strait. HMS Daring conducted 20 separate escort journeys through the strait, protecting a total of 800,000 tonnes of merchant shipping. This critical sea lane has become one of the most dangerous in the world. In October 2016 USS Mason shot down missiles fired at her from Yemen by Houti rebels. The US Navy quickly responded with a Tomahawk missile strike on the suspected launch sites (a capability HMS Daring could and should be fitted with). In January 2017 a Saudi Arabian Frigate Al Madinah was damaged when she was rammed by an unmanned craft packed with explosives, In April 2017 crude sea mines were discovered off the coast of Yemen.

In January 2017 HMS Daring had her mid-deployment break in Bahrain which allows personnel to fly home for two weeks leave or fly friends and family out to the ship. She also changed commanding officer, Cdr Philip Dennis handed over to Cdr Marcus Hember.

Daring left the Gulf region in April and passed through the Bosphorus, entering the Black Sea for brief visits to Constanta in Romania and Varna in Bulgaria. She spent time conducting training at sea with the Romanian Navy and Air Force. Although brief, such diplomatic visits by RN vessels help reassure our partners in the region of NATO’s commitment to their defence and remind Russia that the Black Sea is not ‘their lake’. The final call on the way home was a low-key visit to Barcelona, although the residents of Gibraltar would have preferred to have stopped there, rather than in Spain.


Serving in the heat of the Red Sea and Arabain Gulf, HMS Daring once again has proved the Type 45’s notoriously over-reported propulsion issues do not seriously hamper her capabilities, even in high threat environments. The range and power of the Sampson radar is able to provide early warning of threats, backed up by her mach 4.5 Sea Viper missiles that give confidence to vessels under its protective umbrella. The Type 45 is the world’s best air defence destroyer is not just public relations hyperbole, but consistently proven on operations and well recognised by the other navies.


As an island nation, it is particularly important that we are able to maintain the flow of vessels that carry energy, goods and food to our shores. The Bab-al-Mandeb and other narrow maritime ‘choke points’ around the world are vulnerable to closure or obstruction and only naval forces can protect them. Much of the navy’s most important work is conducted out of sight. Mainly for reasons of operational security, media and official coverage of Daring’s work in the Red Sea has been patchy but this kind of work deserves greater recognition. The need for more efficient transport of goods by sea is driving the construction of ever-larger merchant vessels. The sinking of just a few of these ships, each carrying millions of pounds worth of cargo could have a significant global economic impact. Closing any one the world’s maritime choke points would cause delays which could lead to shortages and price rises.

The UK’s vulnerability to the disruption of maritime trade is generally given insufficient consideration when considering the resources provided to the Royal Navy.

The ship’s company of HMS Daring must be congratulated on their work while overcoming the loss of a shipmate and maintaining the RN’s high standards. Operating in confined waters East of Suez demands long, sometimes boring periods at action stations or in defence watches. Welcome home and enjoy your leave.

For a lively alternative view from the home front, you can follow the Olive Oyl Navy Wife blog, written by a partner of a sailor serving aboard HMS Daring about the joys and sorrows of naval family life.


from Save the Royal Navy