03 Mar 22. I may disagree with a number of the decisions made under his direction within the 2021 ‘Integrated Review’ process plus a few other important matters along the way, but when it comes to his handling of the UK aspects of supporting Ukraine all that I can say is that Ben Wallace has more than proved his worth as our Secretary of State for Defence.
This morning comes yet another example of UK strategy in relation to Ukraine as Mr. Wallace does the rounds of broadcasting studios sensibly ruling out crazy notions of imposing a no-fly zone in Ukraine because doing so would be almost bound to escalate an already dangerous situation into a war between NATO and Russia and also that doing so would potentially hamper opportunities for the Ukrainian Air Force to attack Russian aircraft, troop displacements and convoys.
While I have no particular awareness of the UK Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss having any particular understanding of defence, on Monday she called for the UK and its European NATO allies to spend more on defence. I am not about to argue against the call although it is somewhat unusual to hear such a direct message coming from a Foreign Secretary rather than from a Secretary of State for Defence. Ms Truss spoke of ‘years of western complacency’ in regard to the threat that Russia has posed and again, I am not about to disagree.
Of course, spending more on defence flies in the face of the NAO report last week which suggested that the UK risks spending more on defence equipment than it can afford. Yes, how we spend on defence is very different to having a strategy that understands the need to spend more on defence.
In November 2020 ahead of publication of the Integrated Review /Defence Command Paper on March 22nd last year, Prime Minister Boris Johnson committed to providing a £16.5bn increase in defence spending spread over four years. This was well received but some of this has undoubtedly been nibbled away subsequently.
However, the additional funding was I suspect primarily designed not to support conventional defence requirements which have been the butt of cuts and slashing back of defence related resources for most of the last two decades and that has been speeded up over the last five years, but to a new National Cyber Force, a new Autonomy Development Centre and RAF Space Command.
All these are worthy projects but the situation in Ukraine has once again emphasised that the UK has not only taken too many conventional capability gaps but that in respect of available capacity, we are probably weaker today than at any time past.
As an aside, very quietly dropped out last Friday was the belated MOD’s response to the House of Commons Defence Select Committee Report entitled “We’re going to need a bigger Navy” (a Report that I had previously written on) and that while producing some clarity on issues such as Type 45, reads as a very ‘defensive’ if well thought through and analysed answers. Whilst one can be reassured on some aspects of justified concern raised by the Committee the underlying feeling is that we are already paired to the bone in respect of Navy capacity and no amount of planned increase in the Navy budget is going to change that.
It is not my intent here to criticise the MOD response because I recognise that even with the huge defensive effort and gloss put in by MOD personnel, you can’t make a silk purse out of a Sows ear. They were bound to defend each and every aspect raised by the Committee rather than agree with them.
The HCDC Report and the MOD Responses raises the issue of why the Committee is, as far as I am aware, yet to start a similar Inquiry into the air domain and which my own view is even more wanting than that of a harsh examination of potential naval capability shortcomings. The Army too and which is still searching to find its future identity and where its future ambitions should lie is also deserving of a separate inquiry albeit that certain of its future capability plans such as AJAX are under close examination and scrutiny.
I will not detail all 29 MOD responses to points raised by HCDC in its ‘We’re going to need a bigger Navy’ report and will leave you to make your own judgement. As I have said already, substantial work and effort to defend what was outlined in the Integrated Review has clearly been put into MOD replies but apart from useful providing clarity on some issues, I for one have been left underwhelmed having read the report through in detail. Here are just a few responses that should probably be noted:
HCDC Report Conclusion 3:
The Navy cannot fulfil the full ambition of the Integrated Review with its current fleet. It needs more lower-end, adaptable vessels, like the planned Type 31 frigate, to fulfil the presence operations planned. A large part of the Government’s plan to address this relies on increasing availability, as well as through the Type 32 programme.
We are not convinced that increased availability can produce enough vessels to be relied upon in an emergency. If the Navy intends to deliver all missions, especially the presence the IR specifies, growth of major surface combatants needs to double, with growth from small, adaptable vessels. The resource budget, personnel and the number of auxiliary vessels should grow commensurately. This expansion will require a significant increase in funding.
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) is confident it can realise the ambitious plans outlined in the IR. For the RN, central to this is the commitment to procure up to five Type 32 Frigates in addition to the ongoing build of five Type 31 Frigates. Alongside the existing commitment to build eight Type 26 Anti-Submarine Warfare frigates, this will mean that by 2030 the total number of frigates and destroyers will increase beyond the current 18.
To enable this, it will be crucial to deliver T26 and T31 and commit to the T32 build. This will complement the planned build of three FSS Ships to support Carrier Strike, and the purchase of a Multi Role Surveillance vessel to provide a Critical National Infrastructure protection capability.
In tandem, the build of up to six Multi-Role Support Ships (MRSS) in the early 2030s, as cited in the Defence Command Paper, is needed to fully realise the benefits of Littoral Strike, while the funding for the concept and assessment phase of Future Air Defence System is an essential step in building a counter hypersonic capability into our Type 45 replacement.
Greater forward presence and ship availability are also dependent on continued investment in the RN’s support architecture (including the Future Maritime Support Programme and shipbuilding pipeline) alongside flexible crewing models.
These investments will ensure the RN remains ready to rapidly respond to crises. To allow this, the appropriate force elements and capabilities, including Carrier Strike and Littoral Strike forces, are held at very high readiness
HCDC Report Conclusion 4
The Ministry of Defence should be honest with the public about the deteriorating international security situation, the capabilities the Navy will need to protect Britain in this environment, and the funding required to deliver those capabilities. We believe that if the public understands the Navy’s requirements, they will support the increase in funding necessary to deliver it.
The evolving threat picture was at the heart of the IR. The international security situation and Defence’s capability requirements as a result of it are, accordingly, set out in public documents.
The Defence Command Paper outlined the changing strategic context and associated shifts in global power around four over-arching trends: geo-political and geo-economic shifts; systemic competition; rapid technological change; and transnational challenges. Given this range of challenges, strategic decision making in the MOD is threat-focused and evidence-driven, with inputs from across the intelligence community, government agencies, and our strategic allies and partners.
The sensitivities of some of this intelligence means that we cannot share every detail with the public. However, the Secretary of State for Defence, Ministerial team, Chief of Defence Intelligence, and other senior officials continue to engage public facing forums and academic organisations to share their perspectives, where appropriate. Defence has also decisively shifted its approach to tackle these threats, as outlined in the Integrated Operating Concept (2020) and Defence Command Paper.
To underline the government’s long-term approach, the MOD received a four-year spending review settlement with an increase of over £24 billion. The RN is receiving an increasing budget, 4 “We’re going to need a bigger Navy”: Government Response to the Committee’s Third Report rising from £7 billion in FY21/22 to £8.7 billion by FY30/31 to accelerate a drive to be more lethal, more available, and more sustainable—a Global, Modern and Ready Navy to address the international security situation now and into the future.
HCDC Conclusion 8:
The Department must provide clarity on how it intends to operate the F-35 fleet before then. It must specifically address the questions of how many carriers and F-35s will be operated by the Navy and the RAF as part of routine operations and how a surge capacity will be delivered if one is planned. The Department should also be clear about what role uncrewed aircraft will play and when and how that role can be delivered. Until the Department provides clarity on all these points it is impossible for them or us to be reasonably sure of the risks the programme is carrying and how they can be mitigated
Both aircraft carriers can conduct independent routine operations, with one carrier designated as the ‘Strike Carrier’. Carriers are strategic assets, and their deployment plans will depend primarily on the threat as well as the UK’s foreign policy priorities.
On routine operations, the Department plans to regularly deploy CSGs, with location and scale (including a decision on the total of F-35Bs embarked) matched to operational priorities and effects, as determined by the Department’s existing plans, commitments, and operational prioritisation process. Using the CEPP routine operating model as a guide, the Defence ambition is to hold a Queen Elizabeth Class carrier permanently at readiness, deploying annually on operations, with F-35Bs being made available for those deployments depending on scale, duration, their force growth and concurrent Defence demand
In 2022, the number of UK F-35Bs available for embarked operations to support routine deployments is a squadron of up to 12 jets.
This number will increase by FOC for F-35 (scheduled for 2025) to put up to 24 jets on board; assessment work continues on what potential for surge capacity would be available after this date, recognising any such surge would affect training pipelines. The Department is presently considering options to purchase a further tranche of F-35Bs to increase Carrier Strike capacity and readiness.
To augment the F-35B’s strike capability and to complement, and potentially replace, some of the roles delivered by its crewed helicopters, the RN is exploring options for a range of Uncrewed Air Systems (UAS). It is intended that the funded programme will also deliver a flexible, tactical UAS for frigates deploying to the Middle East. This will augment the ship’s helicopter and provide Commanders with persistent surveillance
HCDC Conclusion 11.
We are concerned that the Future Commando Force and the Littoral Response Groups are not properly resourced to continue amphibious operations. The Department must confirm that it remains committed to retaining the Royal Marines’ amphibious capabilities.
The Department remains committed to maintaining and modernising the UK’s amphibious capabilities. The IR allocated £278 million over the next ten years to transform our Commando Forces that deliver our Littoral Strike capability.
In tandem with this investment, the RN continues to identify areas where its existing resources can be re-prioritised to support development of Littoral Strike. As well as the existing Landing Platform Dock (LPD) and Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LSD(A)) ships, which are specifically designed for amphibious operations, other warships and auxiliaries may support the LRGs, augmented by commercial shipping, to enable the movement of material and personnel during routine operations.
Up to six MRSS, which will replace both the LPD and LSD(A) vessels currently in service, were announced in the IR to enter service in the early 2030s. This demonstrates the Department’s enduring commitment to amphibious capabilities. To augment these vessels, and the associated aircraft, the UK Commando Forces programme is also exploring options for development of new, modernised, fast landing craft to speed up the movement of forces from sea to land, thereby increasing amphibious operational responsiveness
HCDC Conclusion 13:
We are very concerned that the limited resource budget allocated under the Spending Review for the remainder of this Parliament will be insufficient to properly operate and maintain the full fleet. We were not convinced by the Department’s assertion that “the resource budget is adequate to ensure that we maintain the crewing and effectiveness of those additional resources”.
If this is not remedied, there will almost certainly have to be a compensating reduction in maintenance of or operations by the aircraft carriers or other vessels. If the Navy attempts to cut the payroll costs element of RDEL by reducing personnel numbers, this could make it even harder to bring in the new classes of vessels in the 2030s as planned. Defence spending must increase to allow the Navy’s resource budget to beat inflation and to accommodate any new cost model for the aircraft carriers
The IR invested an additional £9 billion in the Maritime domain; £6.1 billion into Navy Command and the remaining £2.9 billion in the DNO and the Complex Weapons pipeline. To maximise the value from this investment, the MOD attributes resources as efficiently as possible to deliver against operational outputs and the procurement programme. The RN is experimenting with different crewing models to inform the requirements for future classes of ships, and, in turn, this will determine the overall workforce the RN needs
HCDC Conclusion 19:
The low availability of the UK’s Type 45 destroyers and recognised issues in their propulsion systems are a major cause for concern. The destroyers cannot do their job or effectively deter adversaries if only half, and sometimes only one, of the six ships is available for operations at any time. The PIP that is intended to improve this situation is scheduled for completion in 2028 but there are indications that timelines may be slipping. We find it extraordinary that the Navy is prepared to wait seven years to fully repair these £1 billion destroyers, which are arguably the most powerful units in the surface fleet after the aircraft carriers.
Type 45 Destroyers continue to contribute to the defence of the UK and support our international partners. HMS DEFENDER and HMS DIAMOND have recently returned from operational deployment with the CSG.
The MOD has two key strands of work to address and improve reliability and resilience of Type 45 Destroyers. Measures to enhance system reliability are being delivered through an EIP. Platform availability and reliability measures show that there has been a circa 80 percent reduction in the occurrence of Type 45 loss of power events across the class since 2010.
EIP, now over 72 percent complete across the six Type 45 Destroyers, has been a key contributing factor to this improvement and is delivering positive results by increasing time on task across the class. HMS DEFENDER had the highest availability of any unit in the CSG Task Group – a prime example of the positive impact of EIP.
The second strand of work is the Type 45 PIP which will improve system resilience through the installation of an upgraded power and propulsion system. HMS DAUNTLESS is currently in the test and commissioning phase of her first of class PIP conversion, having completed the installation of all major new systems.
This has been a complex engineering project and delivering it against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant challenge which has tested industry and impacted the schedule. We will learn from the HMS DAUNTLESS’ PIP conversion to ensure that the conversion of subsequent ships is conducted as efficiently as possible. This has been a significant focus of activity
HCDC Conclusion 22: The next decade is one of significant risk for the Royal Navy’s fleet. During a period when it is being expected to take on increased responsibilities in a deteriorating international security environment, the Navy will be relying on a mix of elderly vessels (like the Type 23 frigates) and new and untested assets and processes (like the uncrewed mine countermeasures), while also being constrained by a tight budget for operations and maintenance that will force it to change how it operates.
In addition, crucial programmes like the Crowsnest early warning system, the Type 45 Power Improvement Project and introduction of the Naval Strike Network will not be completed for several years, all of which incurs risk.
The Navy will also be forced to carry capability gaps in medical facilities and anti-ship missiles, because of the retirement of RFA Argus and Harpoon, and likely also in its ability to monitor critical national infrastructure and deliver support shipping and logistics, because of the uncertain in-service date of the Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship and delays to the Fleet Solid Support ship programme. The lack of Fleet Solid Support ships is a particular concern because it threatens the Navy’s ability to deliver a force with a sovereign core that can act independently of allies.
The Integrated Review committed to funding significant upgrades to the RN. This includes investment in new ships and capabilities, and the retiring of those that are approaching obsolescence. Risks associated with this transition are being actively managed in order to minimise capability gaps and ensure the RN is able to meet all its operational outputs. Work is ongoing to explore a range of options to meet the RN’s Future Offensive Surface Weapon (FOSuW) requirement to replace Harpoon which goes out of service in 2023. This includes the potential fitting of Mk 41 launchers beyond those already planned for the Type 26, including Type 31 and potential retrofit to existing classes, to provide commonality with partner nations, improve interoperability and simplify the inventory of maritime offensive capabilities. Royal Fleet Auxiliary ARGUS is due out of service in 2024. In the longer term, the MRSS programme will offer an enduring solution to afloat medical support. In the interim, a range of potential options are being explored to mitigate the gap, including a short extension in service of RFA ARGUS.
The Defence Command Paper announced that the RN would develop a Multi Role Ocean Surveillance ship to provide an underwater Critical National Infrastructure protection capability, and work is ongoing to bring this capability into service as quickly as possible. While operating alongside allies and partners offers significant benefits, we will manage the transition between FORT VICTORIA and the first FSS ship to ensure that the Carrier Strike Group retains a sovereign core and ability to operate independently
HCDC Conclusion 23:
Towards the end of this decade the Navy intends to bring in several completely new classes of vessels simultaneously. These plans must be delivered on schedule if the Navy is to avoid capability gaps and end the period of risk it has created through its own planning and procurement decisions. We welcome indications that these programmes are currently on target. However, past performance is not encouraging, and numerous risks have been identified. The security of the fleet and the UK rely on these projects being delivered on time. Given the challenges associated with the age of the vessels, like the provision of spare parts, we are far from confident that any delays can be effectively managed by extending the life of ageing vessels without additional risk.
The MOD has a clear plan and approach to future ship procurement. The Type 26 and Type 31 Class of ships will be brought into service to replace the Type 23 Frigates in the latter half of the 2020s, and into the 2030s. As with all complex programmes, there is risk associated with delivery dates which is being closely managed by the Senior Responsible Owners.
The project teams have experienced people who have successfully brought into service the River Class Batch 2 OPVs and Queen Elizabeth Class Aircraft Carriers. The Type 23 Frigates continue to be highly effective and successfully deployed to provide maritime security for key trade routes and to protect the Continuous at Sea Nuclear Deterrent and CSG. The risks associated with the delivery of Type 23 availability and Frigate transition plan are well understood and are also being managed by experienced DE&S and RN teams.
On current plans, the transition into service of Type 31 and Type 26 to replace Type 23s will not introduce any capability gaps. The full set of responses can be read by clicking onto the link below:
CHW (London – 2nd March 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785