ARE INCOHERENT AND SELF-INFLICTED MINI-SDSR CUT OPTIONS HOLING THE ROYAL NAVY BELOW THE WATERLINE AND SINKING THE SENIOR SERVICE?

ARE INCOHERENT AND SELF-INFLICTED MINI-SDSR CUT OPTIONS HOLING THE ROYAL NAVY BELOW THE WATERLINE AND SINKING THE SENIOR SERVICE?

DefenceSynergia (DS) is deeply concerned about the apparently random stovepiped savings options being offered during the current mini-SDSR. In particular, the Royal Navy appears to be floundering and in danger of sinking itself via a series of self-inflicted self-harm cost and equipment reduction options that undermine core Capabilities. One has to question the strategic thinking and logic of the First Sea Lord and his HQ staff.

Delivering UK Maritime Power – Back to Basics

At the heart of resolving any problem is understanding what your purpose in life is, admitting to having the problem, and then developing logical and rational options to addressing the problem in the context of what you can realistically deliver.

The Royal Navy states its purpose is1:

Preventing conflict – The Royal Navy’s presence on the world stage sends a powerful message that the UK is committed to global affairs and provides a stabilising influence. In this way we prevent conflict on the high seas and protect the flow of international trade on which our nation depends;

Providing security at sea – The UK has a responsibility to its citizens and its allies to endeavour to safeguard the high seas. This is why the Royal Navy protects home and international waters – making sure the global trade that Britain and the world depend on can proceed without a hitch;

International partnerships – As the fifth largest economy in the world, the UK has responsibilities towards its allies and partners. But Britain also has global ambitions – namely to protect the seaways underpinning the country’s prosperity. The Royal Navy plays a crucial role in fostering these enduring and lasting alliances with other nations;

Ready to fight – When diplomacy fails, the UK has to be ready to protect its interests and its allies. What’s more, as a member of NATO and the UN, the UK also acts to support the enforcement of UN resolutions and come to the aid of our allies. This is where the Royal Marines come in: we train to go where we’re needed – by sea, land or air – and deploy our forces with the aim of restoring peace;

Protecting our economy – Maritime trade is the lifeblood of the UK economy and industry. 95% of Britain’s economic activity depends on the oceans. And every year Britain imports goods worth £524 billion. The UK is so dependent on the seas for its prosperity, that without the Royal Navy acting as a deterrent the effect on the economy would be overwhelming;

Providing humanitarian assistance – When natural or man-made disasters occur, a country’s infrastructure and resources can be crippled. With loss of electricity, shortage of food and water supplies, and human lives at risk – responding to such life-threatening scenarios is central to the Royal Navy’s ethos. Because we have the skills, equipment and know-how to go anywhere, regardless of potential damage to local infrastructure.

Having de-commissioned its operational aircraft carriers (HMS Illustrious and HMS Ark Royal) and leaving a decade gap before replacements are in-Service, the Royal Navy’s current Flagship is a helicopter carrier (HMS Ocean) currently diverted from NATO duties to assist in humanitarian aid in the Caribbean. Yet despite having had £65m of upgrade in the last few years, this very capable ship is being de-commissioned without replacement in 6 months time. Furthermore, many of the numerically diminished RN combat ships are either long-term alongside in harbour due to being readied for disposal, lack of crew manpower, no funds for operating, in a historic long term, time, cost and labour intensive cyclic refitting programme, or awaiting repair to damage, replacement of faulty propulsion, etc. In reality fewer than half a dozen of the RNs destroyers and frigates are available to deploy, or are deployed, operationally on any one day.

In addition, many of the essential re-supply, repair, hospital and support ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) have also been put alongside and are now up for disposal, including the only repair ship (HMS Diligence) that can repair ships at sea.

Smaller patrol vessels and counter mine and survey ships that are critical for maritime operating and constabulary roles, such as oceanographic surveys, coastal defence to intercept smugglers and criminals, policing our fishing grounds, and generally keep our coasts and maritime traffic safe, are also being de-commissioned or placed alongside due to lack of crews and through-life support funding.

The, much highlighted, two ‘massive’ Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers have been so poorly procured that they will not be in-Service until at least 2023, a decade after RN aircraft carriers were scrapped, and deliver less maritime strike Capability than many of their predecessors. Once ‘operational’ they will only ever operate singly and with only a dozen or so short-to-medium range Vertical Short Take Off and Landing F35-B aircraft and helicopters. Bizarrely, even the limited maritime attack Wildcat helicopters are reportedly being offered as a saving option, thus, limiting helo surface attack capability from the carriers. These Carriers will have barely any self-protection, total 8mps data bandwidth much less than a 4G mobile phone, no air-to-air refuelling capability, limited short-range helicopter provided airborne early warning and anti-submarine capability.

As the First Sea Lord offers to slash up to 1000 posts from the Royal Marines (RM), de-commission their unique amphibious landing ships and landing craft required to rapidly insert people and equipment ashore, and the Wildcat maritime attack helicopters needed to suppress enemy fire and provide close air support over the beach, the RN’s globally envied RM amphibious attack capability is being neutered to a ship policing boarding party and benign environment air assault role.

In an era of increasing global risk of conflict between States, extremist attacks, piracy, maritime crime, illegal migration across seas to Europe and the UK, and a greater need to police UK waters post BREXIT, it is incomprehensible that the RN is being reduced to little more than an ‘Emperor’s Clothes’ delusionary coast guard.

The submarine force is undermanned, under resourced, plagued by damage incidents and technical problems, with new boats over-priced, delayed delivery, with no Maritime Patrol Aircraft or proper surface escort cover to support the security of the SSBN force.

The Naval Service seems to being sucking itself, and the wider MOD, dry by over-priced and delayed equipment programmes such as Astute, QE carrier, T45 and T26. The RN and DE&S must urgently inject realism into project costs (at least 50% procurement and running cost reductions).

Conclusion

Can the RN actually deliver any of its stated purposes/roles properly and effectively? How many tasks could it deliver at the same time? Despite the First Sea Lord and the Defence Secretary extolling 2017 as the ‘year of the Royal Navy’ and waxing lyrical about the £178bn in increasing defence spending and more ships on contract to grow the Navy, the reality is completely the opposite. Even if true and more was being spent by the MOD and RN it is patently obvious to those outside the MOD that the RN today has fewer people, fewer ships, less combat power and incoherent Capability – less bang per buck and less maritime power per pound.

Recommendation

The Royal Navy needs to ‘think Capability’ and should be focused on providing:

  1. A coherent total Force ‘maritime strike’ capability comprising: an aircraft carrier; at least 36 on-board FW aircraft (manned and unmanned) with credible long-range surface and land attack capability; mine counter measures support out to 50nm from the fleet; at least 6 anti-submarine attack and 12 ship and land attack helicopters; 6 medium lift and 6 heavy lift helicopters; an air-to-air refuelling capability; layered anti-submarine defence and attack capability out to 100nm; effective 360o layered carrier group air defence and attack capability out to 250nm; 100mb of fleet data inter-connectivity; fleet support ships providing flexible stores and fuel re-supply; an afloat fault and damage repair capability; casualty care and evacuation ship; hydrographic support services;

  1. A coherent sub-surface and surface 24/7 UK waters coastal policing and defence force to secure our sea borders and maritime national waters – perhaps this task needs to be shared with, or go to, another government department;

  1. A littoral landing and air assault delivered combat amphibious Brigade;

  1. A sufficiently large maritime RN and RM Force and coherent equipment to provide national and contribute to international sea lane security, and national and international humanitarian aid.

  1. The RN needs to take back in-house all Capability delivery elements including procurement and estate management so that the First Sea Lord is both responsible and accountable for delivering all the Defence Lines of Development for the RN’s output – no-one else to blame when it goes wrong.

  1. Resource balancing option must be based on ‘Core Maritime Capability Delivery’ rather than the current incoherent cuts offerings approach. A Sacred Cow or two may have to be slaughtered (and not necessarily in the maritime field) on the altar of realism and real world context.

The RN must be realistic about its ambitions versus its actual diminished capability. First Sea Lord must speak truth unto himself and power (politicians) and must slash the extortionate funds and costs being demanded by a poorly delivering UK warship industry.

1 The Royal Navy Website (6 Oct 2017) – https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk