Before moving to my main subject for today and having three months ago made a rare plea for your personal support, it is very pleasing to report that having raised £660,000 in three months including having received a major £390,000 donation from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, plus support from the Bomber Command Association and RAFHS, the Victoria Cross that was awarded to Squadron Leader Arthur Scarf for his amazing act of bravery during the Second World War has been secured and is now on display at the RAF Museum in London. Thank you for your support.
RAF C-130J – RIP In Less Than Six Weeks
Much discussion in Parliament yesterday in regard of the dangerous and ill-timed MOD decision to fast-track elimination of the C-130J fleet from the Royal Air Force fleet by the end of June. The matter was also picked up by Sky News Defence Editor Deborah Haynes and which is well worth reading.
In the piece Deborah Haynes details serviceability of Airbus A400M and Lockheed Martin C-130J aircraft used in the recent Sudan evacuation and which makes very interesting reading. Sky have apparently taken detail from an internal document dated 5th March 2023 which lists the service state of RAF transport related aircraft. On that day seven of the RAF’s fleet of 21 A400M aircraft which will very soon take over all roles currently undertaken by C-130J’s, only seven aircraft were serviceable. By contrast, six of the seven remaining operational C-130J fleet were serviceable -the seventh is apparently being readied for disposal to a third party.
I think you all know my views on the planned withdrawal of C-130J capability and my well-expressed fear that this is the worst decision by the MOD that I can recall being taken by any government in peacetime.
Sadly, I have to say that Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace is out of touch on this issue. This is another example of saving money over that of attempting to ensure we retain sufficient levels of capability we need. Led on as we clearly was by the former Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter, it is as if he [Wallace] is terrified of being seen to accept that he is making the absolute wrong decision by prematurely withdrawing the RAF C130J fleet in order for it to be sold to third parties SOLELY BECAUSE demand for used C-130J’s remains very high.
The way I am bound to see it is that Wallace was taken down a road of the C-130J being an aircraft that we can easily dispense with and sell on to raise money. Yes, the A400M is great capability, it carries more troops and equipment and can do more, fly longer and maybe cheaper but it is not as flexible and capable as a C-130J when it comes to mission availability, where it can land and take off and what it is cleared to do.
With maybe six of the original 14 C-130’s probably already sold – quite probably the others are also subject to sale agreements as well but who knows without going through a Freedom of Information Process to find out – it will also be interesting to find out the agreed sale price to third party air forces. detail about the centre spars ordered for the C-130J fleet and of how these are to be accounted for. Some have already been fitted but I am assuming to already withdrawn RAF aircraft.
Finally, and as if to strengthen my own and Sky’s points, let us not forget that two other EU NATO partner nations – Germany and France and who also operate the Airbus A400M have in the past three years acquired NEW fleets of C-130J’s. What is it that they see and understand that Mr. Wallace clearly does not!
UK will be left ‘dangerously exposed’ when it cuts fleet of special forces aircraft, sources say | UK News | Sky News
HMS Vanguard Departs Devonport On Completion of Delayed LOP[R]
Although much will be made about the exceptionally long period that it has taken for the second refuelling and ‘Long Overhaul’ of HMS Vanguard, the first of class UK nuclear powered and Trident armed submarine and that has now departed from the Devonport Royal Navy Dockyard, I will make just a few remarks aimed at setting the record straight.
The first is that HMS Vanguard is the only one of the four members of class to undergo a second refuelling. Given that this has never been done before and that the UK had, since these boats were first ordered back in 1986, lost many of the highly specialist submarine engineering and build skills during the long gap between building Trafalgar class and Astute submarines, the decision to ‘refuel’ HMS Vanguard for a second time and the huge complications that this opened up during the long and difficult process should not be easily discounted.
The second is that of obsolescence. Refuelling and indeed, the long overhaul process that followed opens up a hornet’s nest of obsolescence issues that cannot easily be envisaged prior to the work actually starting. Indeed, even on a long build programme such as Astute, such is the pace of change that obsolescence problems can be an issue when ordering of capability is spread over so many years or decades.
It was in March 2014 whilst I was on my way to Bristol from London by train that I received an unusual call from the MOD to pre-warn me and without providing specific reasoning or detail that the following day they [MOD] would be announcing that HMS Vanguard, was to be refuelled for a second time. By any standards imaginable, it was an unusual call and one that surprised me.
Vanguard was the first of class Royal Navy nuclear powered and Trident armed submarine ordered in 1986. Built at the then VSEL yard in Barrow in Furness, she was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1993. Along with three similar submarines, Vanguard class were designed to replace the four ‘Resolution class nuclear powered submarines that carried Polaris missiles and that ever since have been responsible for carrying the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent in what is correctly termed as our ‘Continuous at sea nuclear capability’.
HMS Vanguard has subsequently undergone the second Refuelling and Long Overhaul (LOP[R]) process at HMNB Devonport Dockyard which is owned and operated by Babcock International. To say the least, it has been a very difficult task.
It is of course extremely pleasing that HMS Vanguard will now return to her base at HMNB Faslane to work up ahead of resuming normal patrols later this year.
While a second of class, HMS Victorious will shortly move to have a much-delayed refit and remedial work, there are no plans to refuel any of the other three Trident submarines. I not go into too many specific details of why it has apparently taken 89 months to complete the LOP[R]) and to that end would refer you to an excellent article published by NAVY LOOKOUT, which produces Independent Royal Navy News and Analysis on-line and which in this case contains significant relevant detail.
It was not until I read the NAVY LOOKOUT article that I learned of the potential reasons why the MOD decided to put Vanguard through an unplanned second (LOP[R]. Apparently, in January 2012, low levels of radioactivity were detected in the cooling water surrounding the Core H test-bed at the now closed shore based Naval Reactor Test Establishment (NRTE) at Dounreay. It is believed this has been caused by microscopic leaks in the cladding that surrounds fuel elements. This is not a major safety issue and the test-bed is deliberately run much harder than an actual submarine reactor. No problems had been found in operational reactors but it was deemed sufficiently serious that the decision to refuel HMS Vanguard was taken as a precaution.
As the NAVY LOOKOUT article states:
“During HMS Vanguard’s first 35-month LOP(R) which took place between Feb 2002 and Jan 2005, she received the new Core H reactor. This new core design, which has subsequently been installed in her sister boats and on the Astute class submarines from the outset, was intended to avoid the need to refuel at all during its lifetime. Vanguard is therefore the first submarine to have a Core H refuelling, a task that was not envisaged when it was designed”.
Eventually to be replaced by the four Dreadnought class submarines, the first two of which are under construction in BAE Systems submarine yard in Barrow-in-Furness (first steel on the third ‘boat’ was recently cut) – HMS Vanguard will continue in Royal Navy service well into the 2030’s.
CHW (London – 16th May 2023)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785