Whilst it is true that the recent additions to the Royal Navy”s (RN) Order of Battle (ORBAT) is enhancing the service; the overall operational capability remains woefully thin.
The RN’s responsibilities are currently being described as “Global” and “Tipping to the Far East’. This implies an ability to respond to operations that stretch from the Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom (UK) GIUK gaps to the South China Sea and beyond. The operational, and even the total, fleet is quite inadequate to cover the many and varied operational scenarios above, on and below the surface at any one time. These include protection of the deterrent, presence in the Middle East and Far Eastern alliances in addition to the close security and defence of the UK.
DefenceSynergia (DS) has and continues to challenge the much hyped operational capability of the RN and points to its strategic and tactical incoherence, especially in ORBAT, and the inconsistencies in the ‘system of systems’ approach to defence. Amongst too many weaknesses to categorise in full, there are insufficient aircraft available or planned for, there is no Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), (Note 1) only one CSG Air Group (certainly not two as is currently being declared), limited carrier-borne and zero land based AEW until 2023, and then only a single Barrier capability, limited and gapped LRMPA, too few logistic and sustainment enablers to allow rapid delivery of UK based armour. The essential and vital carrier-borne aircraft are hampered operationally through the Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) design of the aircraft carriers. These are further constrained by their top speed and the limited availability of logistic support ships.
To cover the various operational responsibilities of the submarine service, DS has argued for many years that 12 Hunter Killer (SSN) hulls are the minimum necessary requirement. At best, there are and/or will be seven in which operational as well as “being maintained” must be included. Thankfully, the minimum 4 ballistic missile submarines (SSBN) are operational and their replacements planned for.
The tasks given to destroyers, frigates and the number of other surface warship types are myriad. Since their operational responsibilities are so far stretched, DS has long argued that their numbers have been wilfully and dangerously reduced over the last few decades. Apparently, only now has this realisation occurred to the Ministry of Defence (MoD). There is, so the First Sea Lord believes, a build programme that will restore numbers to a level believed acceptable in operational terms. This expansion will take many years. DS contends that the speed of regeneration and the aimed for numbers are far from that which will be required to confront the emerging threats. In particular, the Chinese fleet expansion will dwarf that of the allies in the Eastern Pacific. The Russian Navy, meanwhile, remains a significant threat in the Baltic and North Atlantic.
DS is conscious that the UK is passing through a period of potential severe economic crisis and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has high and competing costs within his budget. Nevertheless, “Defence of the Realm” has invariably featured at the top of the Government’s priorities. Should this still be the case, it is imperative that the incongruities, inconsistencies and “black holes” in the Security and Defence programme be revisited urgently yet again. In doing so a properly realistic ORBAT for the Royal Navy must be put in place in order to minimise the existing risks to the UK’s national safety and her international responsibilities.
Note 1: USN & Royal Australian Navy have CEC – UK cannot be fully interoperable with the USN and RAN without it!