Royal Navy 2012 News Round-up

Dec 11, 2012   //   by NavyLookout   //   Articles, blog  //  10 Comments

Prevarication leaves another crucial ‘capability gap’

A Westland Sea King AEW.2A AEW-helicopter from...

A Sea King ASaC MK7 “Bagger” pictured operating from a US warship in the Gulf. Note the radar in a bag retracted up for landing.

Key assets for the Royal Navy are it’s Airborne Early Warning helicopters, i.e. search radar-equipped helicopters that can give the fleet much greater coverage than ship-based radar limited by the curvature of the earth. During the Falklands war this lack of coverage left the fleet in fear of Exocet missile and aircraft attack, with just seconds to react and it cost ships and lives. In a classic piece of British ingenuity the problem was solved by fitting a radar to a Sea King helicopter in just a few weeks. The much-loved, but now knackered Sea King helicopters will have to be retired by 2016. Despite being fully aware of this, the MoD project “Crowsnest” to develop a replacement has only just begun assessment phase. Almost certainly the solution will be to take some of the precious few (30) anti-submarine Merlin Mk2s currently in RN service and add radar in a very similar way to the current solution. Crowsnest is not expected to deliver until 2022, thus leaving the RN carrier(s) at sea without vital radar coverage for at last 4 years. Since 1982 the AEW helicopter has seen its role expanded and they have proved useful in Afghanistan and other non-maritime environments where their tracking and surveillance capability provides vital intelligence on the ground. It is the complacency & penny-pinching of successive governments that have, yet again, created a situation where the RN will have a another very significant ‘capability gap‘. Crowsnest’s lack of urgency is typical of so many MoD-managed programs and it is unclear why something that was solved in a few weeks in 1982 will take up to 10 years in the 21st century!

RAF plans to royally screw up the aircraft carrier project remain on track

Having succeeded in “advising” government to ditch catapults & traps for the aircraft carriers so the range of aircraft they carry will be much diminished, the RAF recently proposed the RN’s new 65,000 ton carriers should only “routinely embark 6 aircraft”. Whoever made that proposal is either an idiot or deliberately trying to sabotage the carrier project. The defence secretary later announced that he expects 12 aircraft to be routinely embarked, still a very silly number for a large carrier designed to operate at least 36 aircraft. As we have continually highlighted, the RAF now see the F35B as a replacement for their Tornado aircraft when in fact the F35B is really the successor the Sea Harrier and Harrier GR9. The F35B has “60% RAF ownership” and will probably be based at RAF Marham. It is not hard to imagine the RN will continually struggle to be allowed to operate the aircraft carriers main armament if the RAF have other plans. It is a crazy situation to build carriers then cripple them with bizarre aircraft operating arrangements. The F35B should be allocated to the Fleet Air Arm who fully understand what is involved in carrier aviation. If the RAF must maintain their questionable ‘deep strike’ role then they should lobby government to buy the F35A. A recommended read is the excellent article in the December issue of Warship International Fleet Review magazine by Commodore Steve Jermy who brilliantly explains the complexities of naval aviation and why in every carrier-equipped nation in the world (except the UK), the Navy owns and operates its aircraft.

Astute class subs – serious problems but still world-beaters?

Recently The Guardian gleefully reported on the many problems of the Astute submarine project. Late and over-budget, the Astute program can indeed find a place in the MoD’s Top 10 All-Time Greatest Procurement Fiascos. That said, there are now 2 boats in the water and the Astute class is beginning to deliver on the huge potential it always promised. These boats will be a great asset to the nation and the Royal Navy and ultimately are worth the cost and unfavorable media coverage. Nuclear submarine construction is one of the most demanding engineering challenges known to man and it is unsurprising that the first of class has encountered problems. We can be confident that the problems are slowly being solved and Astute is amongst the quietest subs ever built, offers many new capabilities and has already impressed when tested against the latest US Virginia-class boat. The main concern is possibly with propulsion and a mis-match between her very powerful reactor and the drive train. However this kind of detail must remain highly classified and it’s impossible to speculate in an informed way.

The looming threat of Scottish independence

With referendum on Scottish Independence looming in 2014, the horrible possibility exists that the RN’s key submarine base at Faslane and primary warship builder in Glasgow will suddenly be in a ‘foreign country’. Although opinion polls seem to suggest that the majority of Scots will see sense and reject the idea, it would seem wise for the MoD to start making contingency plans. Apparently the ‘do nothing and hope it goes away’ approach is being applied by the MoD. (although one would hope the RN is at least looking at its options behind closed doors) In fact, the plan to transfer the remaining Trafalgar class subs from Devonport to Faslane is still going ahead. In the calamitous event of Scottish Independence, the nuclear deterrent would be in serious problems, although basing the entire submarine fleet in Devonport is a realistic possibility, the vast cost of replicating the weapons handling facility at Coulport would be a major obstacle and could even spell the end of the UK nuclear deterrent. There are lots of other nightmare issues to consider such as which defence assets and personnel would Scotland demand? Would the RN still build is warships in Scotland and are there any affordable alternatives? Franky independence would be an exercise in silly local pride, there is enough division and splintering in this world and we are better off and stronger together. Let’s pray the Scots vote no to what would be an disaster for them, the Royal Navy and everyone in the UK.

Portsmouth shipbuilding yard saga lurches towards disaster

We have been warning and campaigning against the closure of BAE Systems shipyard in Portsmouth for several months. All indications are that BAE seem set to announce the yard will close very soon. Due to a total lack of coherent industrial strategy on the part of this government and its predecessor, when the aircraft carrier work is complete the yard will have no work (at least for several years until the leisurely-paced Type 26 frigate programme starts). The yard is ideally suited to building small, relatively cheap Offshore Patrol Vessels which the RN really needs. Instead of placing an order for a couple of OPVs to fill the gap in work, government complacency and dogma dictates they will let the yard close. Ministers talk of there being “no business case” to keep the yard open – of course there is no business case if their main customer won’t even place a small order! Besides, the importance of an island nation’s ability to build warships goes beyond short-term business arguments. This pathetic laissez-faire approach to vital national strategic assets is indefensible and hard to understand, given the relatively small mount of money needed to keep it afloat. The financial argument does not even add up as it will actually cost more to close the yard than the cost of a couple of small ships!

Economic problems – more defence cuts on the way?

With the UK economy showing no signs of recovery and public borrowing not significantly reduced, apparently the armed forces may face another round of cuts. Defence has been cut, cut & cut again even in “good times” under Blair & Brown and there is absolutely nothing left to cut without really endangering UK security. Most politicians pay lip service to the fact that the first duty of Government is to afford protection to its citizens but the reality is that defence is a low priority for them as they have a short-term focus on re-election. Most politicians simply assume there are no votes in defence (apart from dishing out employment-related equipment contracts). It is shabby political cowardice & dereliction of duty on the part of government not to ‘ring fence’ the already inadequate defence budget, like it has with more politically-sensitive budgets such as overseas development, education and health.

Remember Timmy MacColl

Leading Seaman Timmy MacColl failed to return to his ship HMS Westminster after a night out when the ship was docked in Dubai in May this year. Despite exhaustive searches, nothing has been seen or heard of him since. Our thoughts go to his family and children as they face their first Christmas without him.

Some Christmas cheer

Despite all the problems there are many reasons for the RN to remember 2012 with some satisfaction. The failure of G4S to provide sufficient security guards for the Olympics meant the armed forces stepped in and did a brilliant job, the unintended side-effect was a big PR boost for the forces fed by the feel good factor around a highly successful Olympic games. The RN also did a fine job in providing the security cordon around the Olympic sailing events off Dorset. HMS Daring made her debut as the first Type 45 deployed to the Gulf and operated successfully with the US fleet. Despite the ridiculous hysteria about her deployment from Argentina, HMS Dauntless completed a lengthy Atlantic tour although she was only in the vicinity of the Falklands Islands for a few weeks.

The major RN exercise of the year was Exercise Cougar 12 which saw the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) deploy to the Mediterranean. The most notable feature was jointly working with the French Navy. (Our new best friends in a shot-gun wedding of convenience brought on by austerity?) The RFTG concept was proven although rumors the ships could be deployed to the Syrian coast for an evacuation or humanitarian operation proved unfounded. Notable was the absence of any RFA tankers or stores support ships. The RFA is so busy covering important jobs that are really the work of now non-existent warships, that there was not a single one available for this major exercise. On a positive note, 4 new RFA tankers were ordered from South Korea although this rather good news was lost in the hysteria surrounding their construction abroad. The Type 26 Frigate programme reached another encouraging milestone as the latest design was revealed it also seems possible that some foreign orders or collaboration maybe possible which could help keep costs down, however it will be at least 2020 before the first ship is delivered to the RN and the numbers have yet to be decided.

The Royal Marines continue to serve in Afghanistan with 40 Commando currently in theatre. Keep safe and best wishes for 2013 to all RN and RM personnel, particularly those serving overseas and away from family this Christmas.


  • how sad to see a once great navy whittled down to nothing! shame on those pencil pushers and politicians!

  • Unfortunately everyone knows there is no political support for the Armed Services (read that as a no vote winner) and that the general public have no idea in how the Armed Services, be it Royal Navy, RAF or Army, support/safe guard UK interests not only in the UK but abroad.
    You could also theorize it as a way of pushing through a European state Forces policy as the UK at some point will HAVE TO call upon other countries in the hope for a defence force if numbers continue to fall.

    What ever peoples stance on the topic one thing is for sure, people wont care until the sh*t hits the fan and then AND ONLY THEN will questions be asked/blame laid at someones feet, by which time they will have taken there unelected seat at Brussels and moved on.

    We could all argue a good point to why each Service needs the most allocation of funds/the newest bit of kit, but the reality is money….we don’t have enough. We do too much with too little and this is having a detrimental effect on equipment/personnel/and morale.
    Why is morale so important?! What person wants to fight for a country which sacks them whilst carrying out their primary duty?! Yes a lot of people will say “its an illegal/unjust war” which as a civilian with rights ,defended by those on the front line, are free to make. Those who serve do not have those same rights, and often when “things head south” are sacrificed for the greater good. This is part and parcel of being a member of the Armed Service: Service before self/England Expects that every man will do his duty. All drummed into a Serving Troop.
    This leads me onto personnel; it is only because of the state of the economy that we have any armed Services at all! All to doom and gloom?! Pay freezes, treatment, eroded trust, the just “soldier on” attitudes, the constant do more with less political stance… is causing soldier fatigue. How many Service persons partners have asked them to leave and get a “normal” 9-5 job? Even IF they earned less!? I know there’s a lot, but with little or no employment to give service leavers they are caught in the web of their contracts (yes they have contracts!) they cant afford to leave, but no longer wish to serve so they push through to their contracts completion. In which even this has been changed against their wishes but again they don’t have the same rights! They are often given ‘Mickey mouse’ qualifications to which is no use in civilian street i might add! I know this is a broad statement as some trades within the Service do earn good qualifications but i would say that is an exception rather than rule!
    Equipment, where do you start here!? You want to win fights/save lives it costs money! Look at it as you scrap 3 destroyers but buy 1 top notch/top of the line one to replace three!..I mean REALLY!!!??!! So first off it has more roles to cover/more detachments to cover(remember work loads have gone up not down!)/is more likely to need replaced before its planned decommissioning date as it has done the job for three/if it is lost you have no ‘slack’ to cover until a replacement is long does it take again!?…But more scandalous is it will PROBABLY be kept in service longer than planned become obsolete and people will then argue about the cost of replacing it whilst in the mean time the world has got more unstable and the Government jumps at any excuse to flex(humor me here) its military muscle.

    Would anyone say I am wrong?! I could go on but alas I know there is no point, and to all those that would say “what a load of sh*t!” sometimes the truth hurts. People see what they want to see as an ugly truth is hard to swallow;no-one wants to admit that the UK is no longer a super power, that the RAF no longer rules the skies NOR does Britannia rule the waves, Nuclear weapons are needed, or the fact the Cold War ever just became more secret.

    That is my 2 pence worth. I wish you all, including the Armed Services, the best for 2013,home and abroad.


  • In all the toing and froing on this topic it seems the only thing these carriers are missing at this stage of the game are arrester wires and an angled deck. Parking the electro catapults would be acceptable IMHO until the viability and funds are available.

    What you might ask am I on about?

    The F35B can handle a short take off without cats so you then need a STOL ac to carry your air radar. But it must be able to safely land on. There are several quite capable fixed wing ac that show what can be done in this field.

    If BAE is not up to the job then I suggest the design and build could be farmed out to others.

    There is going to be a substantial market for this requirement as the Spanish, Japanese, Australians, Indians and even USMC could all be looking for Airborne Radar in the not too distant future and helicopters are not the answer.

    If BAE had any guts they would be funding some of this as a private venture, However when the RAF hear about this it will of course be killed stone dead.

    I suppose one could always reopen the Swordfish production line and upgrade its search radar!

    • Further justification for fitting the angled deck and traps is to enable fixed wing a/c from US and French carriers to land on in an emergency. Would they contribute to this ‘service’? POW should be modified to include this equipment from the start.

      • There is every likelihood that the United States will severely reduce the size of their F35 order if they are unable to come to an agreement on taxes before the Fiscal Cliff is reached.

        Two of the international purchasers are already expressing doubts about their ability to participate and may pull out altogether. Britain is heavily involved in the project, but if the unit price increases due to the American reduction, then there is no doubt that the British Government may also need to reduce numbers and this may include switching the Royal Navy purchase from F35Bs to F18s instead. As a result (at great expense) they will have to switch back to Cats and Traps. However, the electro catapult may just allow them to do this without too much expense. It would also allow the purchase of fixed wing AEW and AAR aircraft.

  • the following is an article from 1 Nov in the US publication ‘Defense News’

    LONDON — British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has thrown his weight behind the Royal Navy operating both of the new aircraft carriers once the new Queen Elizabeth class warships enter service starting late this decade.

    Hammond said no decision would be taken before the 2015 strategic defense review on whether the second carrier would be retained for use by the Royal Navy, but the “relatively modest” additional £70 million pounds ($112.7 million) annual cost of having the two warships available is an “extremely good investment,” he told the Royal United Services Institute annual air power conference in London Nov 1.

    The British government’s decision earlier this year to switch back to purchasing the short take-off, vertical-landing variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter meant there was now “a realistic possibility of both carriers coming into service,” said Hammond.

    A second carrier would allow the Royal Navy to have one of its two 65,000-ton warships continuously available for deployment throughout their lifetime, of the assets he told the audience of senior military officers and industry executives. In extreme circumstances, and given a little notice, it would be possible to have both carriers available at once, he said.

    Hammond also used his speech to settle a row between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy over exactly how many jets should be routinely deployed on board the aircraft carrier once it enters service.

    The British F-35 fleet will be operated by a joint RAF/RN force. The exact number of aircraft to be purchased initially remains unclear, but media reports have put the figure at between 40 and 48.

    The RAF has been arguing for a small number of aircraft to be routinely deployed on the carrier in the early years as the overall fleet of aircraft is built up. The number is unknown, but one RN source said it was in single figures.

    Hammond appeared to end the debate, saying the RN would “routinely embark 12 jets when deployed outside home waters with an ability to surge that number higher in periods of tension.”

    Land-based initial operating capability for the F-35 is scheduled for 2018, with initial flights off HMS Queen Elizabeth set for 2018, said Hammond.

    This is at least a little bit encouraging.
    Also note that the RAF and Army have been hit hard too. The Armys vehicle replacement programme is now delayed yet futher with its venerable 432 series entering its 6th decade. It entered service in 1962 and its replacement set for 2012 is now not arriving until 2022 . This means some of these vehicles will be in service until 2030.

  • 4th Watch,

    I sense no love for your sister service but please remember that ALL 3 Armed Services have been hit hard by the SDSR.

    The RAF does care about maritime defense, the scraping of the Nimrod wasn’t the RAF’s idea but the governments. The RAF are currently replacing its maritime assets from off the shelve aircraft from the US. Though it is a sad state of affairs buying obsolete equipment when we effectively binned more capable airframe.

    Before people harp on about costs and airworthiness of the MRA4 please remember that a lot of what you hear is a twisted truth from the Government covering up its rushed decisions for the SDSR.


    • Stmzcool.
      Thanks for your reply.
      Indeed I do have serious misgivings regarding the RAF and the sea-air interface. I dont want to appear anti in their other responsibilities because I give them special credit for Strategic Transport! However in a world which may become more hostile towards UK interests generally, I am hoping they appreciate that forward defence will mean the Navy must rate a higher priority than presently allowed.
      Defence budget is seriously underfunded and should increase by a whole GDP percentage point.

  • Sad to hear that the RAF is up to its usual tricks regarding Maritime air.
    I dont suppose BAE is likely closing Portsmouth due to RAF pressure is it? I was always concerned that Vospers was absorbed into BAE and didnt remain independant.

    I only hope the Government quickly realises just how pernicious the ways of the RAF are as regards the Maritime defence requirements of the UK. Unfortunately twas ever so.

    The only time the Navy has had an adequate supply of first class maritime aircraft was when supplied by the US Lease Lend 1943-45, and immediately after the war.

    In comparison the RAF hierachy has always been given priority and first call on nearly everything.

  • There is a solution for the Crowsnest programme, but it is also in the development phase. Carter Aviation are currently flight testing the PAV. Although the current model is only a four-seater, they do envisage a much larger version and have the scaled designs for the BAV which could be capable of carrying a large search radar. If powered by turbine, it would be capable of staying aloft far longer and at far higher altitudes than AEW helicopters. Not only able to take off and land vertically, the Carter Copter might even be capable of serving as in-flight refuelling for the F35. It would take about 10 years to have the BAV built and tested, but the PAV is close to completion and Carter signed contracts to develop their technology. They were sponsored by NASA. It is something the MOD ought to consider, as development of the BAV could lead to other designs which would serve as replacement for the Chinook in the long term.

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