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Of UK Arctic Defence Strategy, Exercise Saif Sereea, Germany and RN Support Contracts By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





Just I case you had missed some of the various announcements made by the MOD last week, a more news style of commentary piece from me today on those that I have not already specifically written on:

I was particularly pleased to read last week that the Ministry of Defence has now agreed a strategy designed not only to enhance UK focus on an increasing range of potential threats arising from the Artic region but also one that ensures UK armed forces will work more closely with our Norwegian NATO military allies.

Being a fellow member of NATO, the UK and Norway enjoy a superb relationship and one that stretches back many decades. Unlike the UK which just about meets its 2% GDP spend on defence NATO commitment, Norway falls somewhat short of this with a reported intention to spend 1.56% on defence this year. According to Defence minister Frank Bakke-Jenson speaking in January this year, Norway’s internal forecast for defence spending in relation to GDP is that this is targeted to fall to 1.5% in 2020, a figure where it will likely remain through 2024.

In order to maintain its surveillance capacity and meet future security challenges, in a $1.15 billion deal agreed in 2016 Norway agreed to acquire five Boeing P-8A Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft planes to replace the six P-3 Orion aircraft currently in service. With Norway having a long maritime border with neighboring Russia and with the country’s territorial waters stretching far into the Arctic the ability to track Russian submarine movements has gained in urgency. Before moving on, a quick look at what the Norwegian military comprises may be in order:

With 19 months military service conscription obligation remaining in force, Norway has in the region of 22,905 active serving military personnel and a reported 45,000 serving in the Reserve. While not a specialist area for me, worth noting that Norway is very strong in Armoured Personnel Carrier, Main Battle Tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicle capability. This include 36 operational German built Leopard Main Battle Tanks which the Norwegian Army intends to replace in 2025 together large numbers of Infantry Fighting Vehicles and that include large numbers CV90 IFV’s and that include the 104 acquired under the deal signed in 2012 with BAE Systems Hagglunds and Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace. The Royal Norwegian Navy operates a fleet of five frigates/destroyers, six Ula class submarines and various mine clearance and other vessels.

Currently operating a fleet of Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets, having joined the program as a partner in the Systems Development and Demonstration phase, the Royal Norwegian Air Force placed an initial order for 40 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning ‘A’ variant aircraft and, dependent on funding availability, plans to acquire additional aircraft in due course. The Norwegian Air Force operates 4 x Lockheed Martin C-130J tactical airlifters and has various other fixed wing air capability including a fleet of Falcons jets. Leaving aside utility helicopters, the primary rotary capability has been based on a sizeable fleet of Sea King helicopters which are gradually to be replaced by a fleet of 16 UK built Leonardo EH101 helicopters ordered in 2015.

Back to the UK MOD Artic strategy which envisages greater collaboration between the UK and Norway. As has been the arrangement in existence for many years, the Royal Marines continue to conduct cold weather training in Norway on an annual basis (around 800 Royal Marines personnel are due to deploy for Norway training in 2019) the new UK Arctic strategy envisages that Royal Marine training will now become joint with that of Norway on a long-term basis. To that end, UK military personnel training in Norway will be integrated into Norway’s defence plan.

The MOD Artic strategy complements already agreed UK NATO military commitments meaning that in 2019 four x Royal Air Force Typhoons aircraft will patrol Icelandic skies for the first time. The intention behind the new Artic strategy is that by working more closely with our allies in the region the UK will be in a better position to deter aerial threats to Euro Atlantic security. The mission will also provide the RAF with unique opportunities to test its skills in different environments.

As already announced, in the 2020/21 time frame the UK will also be increasing operational commitments in the area with the introduction of the first of eight new P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft capability enters service with the Royal Air Force. Based out of RAF Lossiemouth and eventually planned to be working alongside similar, as mentioned earlier in this piece, Royal Norwegian Air Force Boeing P-8 Poseidon MPA capability that is also on order, the intention is that these submarine hunters will cover a vast range of territory helping not only to combat a wide range of intensifying threats caused by increased Russian submarine activity in the Arctic. Over the past few years Russia has dramatically increased submarine activity in the Arctic region and has made no bones about its military ambitions in the region. Current NATO belief is that Russia would like to build around 100 facilities in the region.

MOD Arctic strategy is designed primarily to combat any threat posed by increased Russian submarine activity. In 2018, a Royal Navy submarine took part in ICEX with the US Navy for the first time in ten years and as part of the new Defence Arctic Strategy, the Royal Navy will mount regular under-ice deployments in the years to come.

The bottom line is to ask whether all this will be enough in respect of being a response to increased Russian ambitions and the simple answer is no. But, it is a genuine start and should be welcomed as that.

Exercise Saif Sereea

Reaffirming UK commitment to the Gulf region whilst on a five day visit to Iraq, Bahrain and Oman which coincides with the official opening of the joint UK/Oman Exercise Saif Sereea UK Defence Minister Mark Lancaster repeated that the security of the Gulf region is of the utmost importance to not only regional stability but to world economic stability as well. Gulf security is our security he told his host, Oman’s Minister for Defence Affairs, His Excellency Sayyid Badr bin Saud bin Harub Al Busaidi, adding that our commitment to international responsibilities in the region is unwavering.

The official opening of Exercise Saif Sereea 3 signals the start of the UK’s largest military exercise in 17 years, which will see over 5,500 UK troops train alongside Omani counterparts. It is the largest and the most complex of a series of events which will see the UK Armed Forces work with every single one of our Gulf partner nations in a combination of engagements on land, sea, and in the air over the coming months.

In Bahrain, Mr. Lancaster met the Crown Prince, His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa together with the Prime Minister, His Royal Highness Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, this in order to further build on the already strong UK/Bahrain relationship and to discuss shared threats faced in the region. The Minister also met with Rear Admiral Paul J. Schlise, Deputy Commander U.S 5th Fleet and the Combined Maritime Forces, with the intention of reviewing operational challenges in the Gulf including current maritime threats facing the US, UK and our allies in the region. He also visited the recently opened UK Naval Support Facilities at Mina Salman port, home to just over 300 British military personnel.

In Iraq, Mr. Lancaster met Iraqi Defence Minister Erfan al-Hiyali and we are told that they discussed close cooperation between the UK and Iraq in the fight against Daesh along with confirming that the UK will be contributing 10% of the total personnel to the NATO Mission in Iraq to help build a strong security service. The Minister also met UK military currently deployed as part of the 79-member Global Coalition, commending their efforts in training nearly 80,000 Iraqi Security Force members in battle winning infantry, engineering, and combat medical techniques as well as providing courses on countering IEDs and other critical

UK deepens defence cooperation with Germany 

Late last week Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson, alongside his German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen, signed a Joint Vision Statement deepening the already strong UK-German relationship with the intention of increasing defence cooperation across a range of areas, from tackling violent extremism to building new military capabilities.

In a statement accompanying the signing the Defence Secretary said: “Although we are preparing to leave the EU, our commitment to European security is resolute”. Few will disagree intention or need behind this – the attempt to strengthen UK-German ties and bolsters the defence of two key NATO partners.

Mr. Williams also attended a demonstration from UK and German military personnel who form part of the combined river crossing capability in Minden – a capability vital to NATO operations.

The visit comes after the announcement that the British Army will be permanently based in the country beyond 2020 and the followed a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels, in which Mr. Williamson stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Allies in condemnation of reckless and indiscriminate Russian cyber-attacks. At NATO HQ, we are told that Mr. Williamson discussed the importance of the alliance being ready to respond not only to the threats from the East but also from the South. He also attended NATO’s Nuclear Planning Group (NPG), consulting with counterparts to ensure the alliance has the necessary tools and procedures in place to respond to a nuclear crisis.

New £1billion Royal Navy Support Ship Contracts Announced

I am not sure why this announcement was made on a Sunday but yesterday the MOD confirmed that contracts, which we are told, will secure over 700 jobs at various private shipyards, to support Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships together with the Royal Navy’s Survey and Hydrographic Fleet have now been signed. The deal apparently covers 17 ships in all and will improve how spares, repairs and maintenance work are carried out.

The successful companies will work on the ships at various dockyards around the UK in order to ensure that they are serviced and fitted with the latest equipment and systems, whether they are undergoing a refit, undertaking training or on operations.

Defence Minister Stuart Andrew said in the MOD Statement:

This £1bn deal secures work for some of our world-leading shipyards into the next decade, supporting over 700 jobs for workers to ensure our ships remain at sea to defend the nation. This vital work is not only great news for our Navy, but also underlines the importance of defence to our national skills and prosperity.

Agreements following a competition include expected to be worth:

  • £357 million with Cammell Laird in Birkenhead to support the RFA’s Fort and Wave class tankers
  • £262 million also with Cammell Laird in Birkenhead, to support the RFA’s new fleet of four 39,000-tonne Tide class tankers
  • £239 million with A&P in Falmouth to support the RFA’s Bay class landing ships as well as the casualty ship RFA Argus and Royal Navy ocean survey vessel HMS Scott
  • A £150 million contract with UK Docks Ltd on Tyneside to support the survey ships HMS Echo and Enterprise and the ice patrol ship HMS Protector.

We are informed by the MOD that the deal is expected to deliver savings worth over £100 million for defence over ten years with agreements including delivering improved support and greater efficiency in ways such as new support solutions and improved performance targets. The whole contract is underpinned by a robust set of performance measures to ensure continued value-for-money.

The MOD announcement also confirmed that in addition to the four already signed, a further three contracts under the Future In Service Support (FISS) project are expected to be signed within the next year. The news is the latest development in supporting the nation’s military ships, after the MOD unveiled a new model worth around £1 billion to support the Royal Navy fleet and sustain over a thousand British jobs.

The importance of sustaining performance, reliability, safety and sustainability of hydrographic fleet capability and Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels that supply all Royal Navy capital ships with fuel, ammunition, food and spares, wherever they are in the world, is hugely important. Not only are these vessels provide supply support to the Royal Navy but with the Royal Navy surface fleet much reduced in recent years these vessels are increasingly required to undertake disaster relief, counter-piracy, counter-narcotics and humanitarian operations around the world. Hydrographic vessels are predominantly used on oceanographic survey duties and their importance in safeguarding the integrity of UK territorial waters is vital. Worth noting too that with increasing concern in relation to Russia’s increased Artic activity that the Ice Patrol Ship, HMS Protector, is the MOD’s only ice breaking capability.

CHW (London – 8th October 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd      

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon




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