Within the broader scope of the ‘UK Defence New Paradigm’ paper DS mentioned Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) assets but did not elaborate. The attached paper has been collated by a DS RFA specialist with many years of operational experience within the field to add depth to this crucial area of maritime support for the Royal Navy. Given the time constraints involved the paper is necessarily short and only indicative of the scale of the problem.
Defence Synergia UK Defence A New Paradigm – The Royal Fleet Auxiliary
DefenceSynergia (DS) published ‘UK Defence A New Paradigm’ paper recently and sent copies to several Parliamentary Committees and Politicians with an interest in HM Armed Forces and UK Strategy. What DS did not expand upon at that time was the importance of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) to Royal Navy (RN) and wider UK defence posture. Therefore, DS asked its RFA specialist to provide a short addendum to that paper. Here is what he said.
We must not dispose of Wave Ruler and Wave Knight, refuelling tankers.
Assuming the intention [in future] is to have two active Carrier Battle Groups (CBG), two Tide class will be permanently allocated to these. It must be remembered that the Tide Class will require top-up at sea from other RFA tankers, and it may well be imprudent or impossible for operational and diplomatic reasons for armed replenishment tankers to go to some locations like the Gulf to load. [It is unclear whether front line RFAs need diplomatic clearance (DIPCLEAR) to enter commercial ports to load during periods of hostility.]
For that reason, it would be sensible to bare boat charter sensibly sized commercial tankers [say six or so in number to act as freighters and to be able to conduct replenishment at sea (RAS) abeam, as well as to freight oil to strategic reserve locations.
The Leaf class ships were bare boat chartered [RFA manned, painted grey, but unarmed] for periods of 15 to 20 years, depending on age. The more recent Leaf class, four of which were standard STAT32 type commercial tankers [at circa 35,000 tons – a little smaller than the current Tide class], some were chartered for whole life, and some purchased by the Admiralty/MoD. The fifth, Oakleaf, was a one off, and much larger. These ships could keep the fleet tankers topped up at sea, and, as per the Cold War, freight oil products to overseas strategic reserve locations out with the UK.
By doing this, the MoD had absolute control over these assets which is a better arrangement than using STUFT ships for this particular purpose.
The three Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSS) – all armament, food, explosives, and stores (AFES) – need to be built now incorporating all the gear, including the specially developed heavy jackstay RAS rigs as originally proposed. To be sure, F-35B engines can be carried in carriers today but could they be if the carrier is fully stored for war with a full air group embarked?
If the FSS ships cannot be built in the UK for whatever reason, they should be built abroad. As to costs, we do not currently know but the Tides [hull only, with specialised equipment installed in the UK] coat £550m for 4 at 2017 prices.
DS has concluded that a dedicated casualty reception ship needs to be acquired. Whether it is a Hospital ship under the Geneva Convention [painted white with Red Cross emblems on the hull] or whether it might have additional functions, as per RFA Argus, flexibility such as training, would depend on the operational requirements. The RFA ran and manned bona fide hospital ships up to and including the Korean War but it is unlikely that given the UN/Red Cross constraints that this is still an option.
A pressing requirement is a replacement for RFA Diligent decommissioned without replacement as a battle damage repair vessel and for support for RN Attack Submarines (SSN) operating away from home port. Ideally, two such vessels are required. The effectiveness of these assets was proved during Operation Corporate in 1982 – without Stena Seaspread and Stena Inspector [later RFA Diligence], more RN surface ships would have been lost.
There is a financial attraction of converting existing commercial vessels to the role that was conducted by RFA Diligence, and DS, if asked, could point the MoD in the right direction to ensure suitable vessels were acquired.
Foreland Shipping have been seen to do a good job of running 4 Point Class Ro/Ro for sea lift of armour, vehicles and heavy stores. Originally there were 6 on this contract and thought must be given to reinstating the original number of hulls from commercial sources.
The above building suggestions accord with the National Shipbuilding long term plans that have been launched by the Government.
Finally support capacity is contingent upon skilled people wanting to participate in the resurrection of the maritime sector to protect our island country.
Conclusion. The Royal Navy capacity, capability, flexibility, and resilience is dependent on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Merchant Marine to support national ambitions of the UK government. Present events in the Ukraine have demonstrated that inadequate logistic support makes ostensibly powerful Armed Forces considerably weakened and unable to achieve objectives.