Two stories published in the Sunday Times and Daily Mail respectively over the weekend demonstrate that we ignore Donald Trump’s claims about the world being full of ‘fake news’ at our peril.
The first was an article written by the Sunday Times Political editor Tim Shipman which stated that “Plans to wow Donald Trump with Britain’s newest bit of military kit [aka the new HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier] when he visits the UK next month have been torn up amid fears that he would be underwhelmed by Britain’s ailing armed forces”.
The Sunday Times article went on to suggest that “Downing Street wanted to show the American president HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, but the plan has been torpedoed because it has no aircraft yet!” adding that “Officials feared the sight of Trump’s helicopter landing on an otherwise empty flight deck would provoke ridicule from Trump himself and who of course spent part of the recent G20 summit apparently berating European leaders for their lack of defence spending”.
Well, it is certainly true that HMS Queen Elizabeth does not currently and will not have any shiny new F-35 ‘B’ Lightning 2 aircraft on board when Donald Trump visits the UK next month but that said, this is quite deliberate policy that is part of a well thought out and executed plan.
In fact, deck trials with the new F-35 ‘B’ STOVL variant capability are not due to start until the Autumn this year when trials using Joint Operational Test Team F-35 ‘B’ aircraft based at Pax River and flown by a mix of Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and US Marine Corps pilots will take place off the US coast.
Safety is the prime consideration in all this and to auto suggest that this might be compromised by our deciding to land an F-35 aircraft on board HMS Queen Elizabeth before pilots and all those on board ship are trained and fully ready to receive the aircraft beggars belief.
The F-35 provides groundbreaking technology and capability to those countries that are buying it but it is also sophisticated and complicated in equal measure. The margin for error landing sophisticated platform capability such as this on the deck of a ship requires significant training for all those who will be involved.
For a newspaper that prides itself on quality the innuendo created by the article beggars belief. The article states that the UK has taken delivery of just four F-35 aircraft whilst the truth is that while only four are currently here in the UK another eleven F-35 aircraft bought by the UK are being operated in the US where Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots and maintainers are embedded in the US working alongside the US Marine Corps.
I readily accept that for the general public to understand why it takes so long for all the trails and training processes required before the ship is ready for deployment is no easy task. But we have to get it right and there can and will be no short cuts. HMS Queen Elizabeth is current somewhere at sea continuing her trials and while she may not have F-35 platform capability on board yet she does have rotary capability.
Being made ready for the first fixed wing trials that will take place in the US later this year is what her crew are doing right now. HMS Queen Elizabeth may not have any fixed wing capability on board when and if President Donald Trump sees the new aircraft carrier during his upcoming visit to the UK but he will perfectly well understand why the trials and training processes required to bring carrier strike capability back into the Royal Navy cannot be tinkered with just because of a presidential visit.
As I said in a piece a couple of weeks ago, both the Queen Elizabeth carrier, her sister ship HMS Prince of Wales and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft are all good news for Britain both in respect of defence capability, presence and the industrial partnership benefits that the F-35 provided long term for the UK. To suggest that President Trump would be underwhelmed by what he might see will just not be the case.
While the Sunday Times journalist is clearly no specialist on defence the same cannot be said of Larisa Brown, who is I believe Defence and Security Editor for the Daily Mail.
In her case, it is the dragging up of old news in regard of a period last year that, due to the combined issues of maintenance or leave requirements, propulsion system problems together with manpower shortages and other issues, all six Royal Navy Type 45 Destroyers were for a period to be seen docked in Portsmouth.
Clearly designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the UK Government and the Royal Navy, Larisa Brown’s article published on Saturday sought to drag up well known problems that have hit the Royal Navy fleet of Type 45 Destroyers and that led apparently to the ships spending 80% of last year in dock at Portsmouth.
In order to back her article up, the Mail publishes a photograph that shows all six Type 45 Destroyers – HMS Daring, HMS Dauntless, HMS Defender, HMS Dragon, HMS Duncan and HMS Diamond tied up in and around Portsmouth dockyard at various different points. There is no disputing this and indeed, I along with many others who visited Portsmouth last year saw this for ourselves.
But why bring it up now when not only are two and probably three of the Type 45 Destroyers back out on deployment, that a permanent solution has been found and agreed and that the MOD has placed an order for rectification work to start when the additional generators required have been built? What purpose other than to destroy public confidence does an article like this provide?
So having brought the issue up it is only right that I provide a view as to what lies behind the Type 45 issue. That problems occurred with the Type 45 propulsion system when the system was placed under intense pressure leading to a complete outage of power are certainly not disputed. But, before launching off into uncharted waters, it is a pity that the journalist concerned did not do a little more homework and that would have led her to not casting the aspersion that industry was to blame.
Back in 2000, the MOD decided to select an Integrated Full Electric Propulsion (IFEP) system for the Type 45 Destroyer. At the heart of this was the WR-21 propulsion system, a development project that was originally a shared between the US, French and British governments and whose development had design roots going back to the mid 1980’s.
The ultimate system chosen by the UK (by this time both the US and French government partners had dropped out of the programme) was that of combining a Rolls-Royce Gas Turbine engine (RB-211) with an associated ‘recuperation system’. The two were designed to work together in order to deliver efficient power generation over a wide range of demands, not least by using an intercooler to cool air that flows through the engine before combustion occurs.
Whilst in theory the WR21 system represented a significant advance in propulsion design promising as it did, potential for greater fuel efficiency, operational efficiency and flexibility together with long-term savings in maintenance and personnel costs the new propulsion system for which the Type 45 was the first to rely on what was an unproven in service design meant that it carried a far greater element of risk than traditional power units or indeed, the alternative, General Electric’s LM 2500 engine.
Not all agreed and Professor Peter Roberts of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) told members of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee looking at the issue in 2016 that opting for an innovative approach was “a flawed decision” by the MOD because he believed, the design did not address either the “high-power densities” or the “differences in load” that the warships required.
However, I recall that two former First Sea Lords who had at some point been involved in the Type 45 programme disagreed believing that the benefits of using an innovative engine outweighed the risks including the potential for improving maintenance requirements, fuel usage and survivability.
That the original MOD Type 45 power/propulsion system specification did not apparently include the requirement for the Type 45 ships to be operating at full capacity for sustained periods and that there was a degradation of performance in warmer waters was, as the Committee concluded, inexcusable. So too, unmentioned in the Daily Mail article, was that the MOD’s refusal to allow sufficient testing by Rolls-Royce following a change in design to the recuperator were also found to be a key cause of Type 45 propulsion system problems.
While mention is made that permanent rectification work will start in 2020 there is scant detail provided in respect of the £160 million contract awarded to a BAE Systems led team earlier this year other than a mention that in order to resolve Type 45 propulsion system problems extra diesel generators are to be fitted in order to enhance power availability. Neither is there any mention in the article because the Type 45 propulsion system problems arose subsequent to the ships entering service with the Royal Navy and that these are due primarily to original MOD specification failure, that it is the MOD as opposed to industry that are liable.
(Note that the planned UK Defence (320) commentary piece covering Galileo Options that was scheduled for today will now appear on Wednesday. Due to my being in Norwich there will be no commentary on Tuesday)
CHW (London – 18th June 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785