Britain’s future strategic direction #12 – Naval deterrence & presence

The RUSI paper released today deals with the realm of deterrence, and principally the naval means by which a maritime power such as Britain requires presence to achieve this, the paper is titled; Why things don’t happen – Silent principles of national security. Its argument lies in a refutation of the Admiralty strategy of preserving high-end war fighting capability against the Treasury tendency to argue that an insufficient capability is in fact sufficient because its inadequacy has yet to be demonstrated. France has long maintained a hi-lo naval force structure, notably with its Floreal and La Fayette class frigates, to provide for constabulary and diplomatic duties in addition to specialised vessels such as the Horizon class AAW vessels and the FREMM class ASW/GP/AAW frigates. The latter are principally tasked with escorting High Value Assets (HVA’s) and providing area defence to a naval task-group, perhaps its is time to force the Admiralty to accept the same prescription……

For to concentrate purely on high-end war fighting is to create a fleet so limited in numbers that any loss is catastrophic and therefore its employment improbable, and its utility nullified.

To say that Britain is a maritime nation dependent on trade has now become cliché, for it invites all manner of responses ranging from derision of post imperial grandeur, to declarations of Britain’s post industrial economy, and impassioned entreaties regarding the new transnational reality, but all of these miss the truth. Britain still has interests in the world and diplomacy without force is an empty vessel, likewise it misses the reality that British commercial interests in seaborne trade far outweighs merely those goods destined for the home economy, and equally ignores the failure of international institutions to order the world in a peaceful and harmonious equilibrium.

The problem lies in the dissenters mantra of it being impossible to prove a negative, but it is not impossible, merely difficult as the article makes clear; the presence of a Royal Navy ship at a choke point for trade is signal of a political will that will brook no interference, the presence of a task-force in theatre can prevent a conflict escalating, and participation a joint exercise with an ally can prevent a war from beginning in the first place. How do you measure this effect? With difficulty, but that does not mean that the value is not provided. ‘Exciting’ things don’t happen when daddy is constantly on watch for misbehaviour.

To achieve that which the 19th century RN created; the perceptible threat of rapid intervention anywhere firstly requires presence. A navy of circa twenty escorts is so diminished that it can neither provide for the diplomatic nor constabulary duties required, in addition to those of purely military nature, that together form the triumvirate of deterrence described below:

At present Britain’s ambition is to provide a carrier task-force, as well as amphibious task-force, in addition to its standing tasks described below:

Fleet Ready Escort (FRE) – single warship maintained at high-readiness around the UK

Atlantic Patrol Task (North) – UK contribution to the North Atlantic and Caribbean areas

Atlantic Patrol Task (South) – presence in the South Atlantic and West Africa

NATO Response Force – Vanguard SSBN and warship

Fishery Protection Squadron – including oil and gas fields in the North Sea

Mine Countermeasures Force (MCMFOR) – MCM for Baltic, Northern Europe and Atlantic

East-of-Suez – Armilla Patrol for safety of British shipping in the Persian Gulf

Falkland Islands Patrol Task – OPV that is permanently stationed around the islands

Combined Task Forces – terrorism and piracy in the gulf region and the horn of Africa

The general rule of thumb requires that three vessels exist for every task given the need to maintain the work-up / deploy / work-down cycle. In addition to escorts required for carrier and amphib task-groups that is twenty-five warships if we accept the Falklands deployment as a single continuously deployed vessel.

At this point we need to distinguish between a specialised warship versus a non-specialised variant, as well as those suitable to a high threat environment versus those suitable only to the low, and then link those to the tasks above as appropriate.

If Britain is to retain a capability for strategic and sovereign power projection around the globe then this requires carrier task-forces and amphibious task-forces. The former to provide close-air-support and strike capability in support of a major war, the latter to insert and sustain ground forces into a theatre of war. These are HVA’s, and require specialised high-end ASW and AAW escorts.

If Britain is to retain an ability to involve itself in preventative diplomacy, coercion, and sanctions and embargoes, then it needs to possess cheaper general-purpose high-end escorts.

If Britain is to retain an ability to intervene in anti-piracy, barrier, humanitarian, presence or evacuation operations, then it need to possess cheap and flexible low-end modular warships.

How does this divvy out between the various ambitions and tasks given to the Royal navy?

First one must deal with the HVA’s, the carriers and amphibs, for there has been discussion of conflating both capabilities into one task. This is flawed for the reason of presence, especially given the possible adoption of Strategic Raiding, for if ones only ability to engage in fleet level conflict is amphibious operations then you have no pervasive effect, there is no elasticity with which to meet new threats and as soon as one is engaged in an amphibious operation you then lack diplomatic leverage.

At this stage we find ourselves with six T45 AAW destroyers, happily capable or providing two on station at any time, and thus meeting both needs with an escort to each task, or more than one for a single task if the situation demands. The same demands would be made of current and future ASW escorts, a minimum of six T26 would be required which is a massive reduction in current capabilities, but then we no longer need to guard the G-I-UK gap against Soviet submarines hell-bent of preventing Operation Reforger. The reduction in hulls could easily be made up by providing two EH101 ASW helicopters to each given that it is the latter that holds most of the detection and reaction capability, a modified T45 hull might prove suitable if the necessary ‘quieting’ can be achieved on what was designed principally as an above surface platform. Here we are talking about area-defence for the task-group rather than self-defence for the warship itself.

At which point we arrive at the Fleet Ready Escort, APT(N), APT(S), and NATO Response Force, duties that require a high-end warship but not of specialised orientation. They need to provide a broad spectrum defence against surface, sub-surface and air threats, but crucially this is only for self-defence rather than area defence and thus cheaper, a factor that will allow their use in littoral environments for naval gunfire support roles. This is essentially the C2 proposal and if there is any candidate for a 155mm gun this is it, however tomahawk is unnecessary as its is a capability already provided by SSN’s. They would be equipped with anti-ship missiles and would form the picket when part of a task-group. With four tasks we are looking at a requirement for twelve vessels.

Now we reach the tasks of Fisheries Protection, MCM, East-of-Suez and Combined Task Forces, all duties that do not require a high-end warfighter, but require local presence for both specialised tasks and constabulary and diplomatic objectives. These require basic self-defence and limited options for attack, but are essentially the low-end force that permits expensive high-end warships to concentrate on tasks that demand their participation. This is the requirement as stated for C3, a modular and adaptable low-end vessel capable of specialised war-fighting tasks. Whereas a high-end C2 vessel might necessitate CAMM in combination with Phalanx or Goalkeeper, here we specify no higher than Searam. Do we need to provide all the low-end tasks above in addition to survey work? Perhaps not, the Falkands Defence Force is hardly dependent on a single OPV, nor too is survey work vital 24/7, so perhaps these roles could be conflated with fisheries protection into one standing task…….. The requirement thus far is again twelve hulls in the water.

Where does this leave us with regards to a future Royal Navy?

To maintain a permanent carrier capability we require two CVF, having only one is a false economy as this leaves us at the mercy of France to agree that our strategic objectives are worth shedding blood over, the alternative would not be sovereign.

To maintain a permanent amphib capability we require two LPD’s, four LSD’s, and two LPH’s, to ensure that we can deploy and sustain a reinforced brigade into a contested theatre of war, the alternative would not be strategic.

To properly escort the above we require at least six specialised AAW escorts, in addition to six specialised ASW escorts, hopefully based of the same T45 hull, caveats regarding quieting accepted.

To properly meet our standing tasks, including those that provide flexibility for ‘events’, we need twelve cheaper but high-end warships, which include capabilities useful to theatre wide conflicts.

To properly meet our standing tasks, both specialised and general, we need twelve cheap low-end warships, capable of occupying essential duties without requiring the assistance or replacement by an expensive high-end warfighter.

To preserve a decisive warfighting edge we need to maintain a fleet of nine SSN’s, to ensure that two are available for task-group deployments for security and fire-support, with a third available to secure the ingress and egress of SSBN’s as well as an operational reserve. Together with a fleet of three replacements for Trident/Vanguard this will sustain a viable submarine industry.

The above of course ignores the hitherto accepted rule that seven vessels are required to keep six on rotation, the latter being in deep refit, but this blog is optimistically assuming that technological advances will enable this to be absorbed into the work-up / deploy / work-down schedule, so we can observe this as an absolute working minimum.

If we are to account for the above, and the 6:1 ratio of ready vs deep-refit is correct, then the following should be considered an effective minimum:

07x T45 (it is not too late to add a seventh to the production line)
07x T26 (seven with two EH101’s apiece could provide high-end ASW)
14x C2 (quite content for it to be a cheap Absalon style vessel)
14x C3 (2500 tonnes max, and able to deploy with the fleet – 18kt)

Have we achieved presence?

Yes, for we allow for the operation of core tasks; carriers, amphibs, SSBN’s, in addition to standing patrols, with the ‘slack’ that permits Royal Navy vessels to deploy as required to a situation arising, though it remains a very lean organisation. How does one achieve the necessary goals with less than twenty-four high-end warfighters, and twelve low-end war-ships, especially when this allows no reserve or surge and ignores deep refit?

A cheaper general-purpose frigate is essential, as is the reintroduction of the ‘sloop’ and so the Royal Navy’s future is hi-lo, much as it might be loathe to admit the possibility.

Update – 02/09/10 –

In British naval doctrine, ‘presence’ is defined as the exercise of the use of naval force in support of diplomacy in a general way, involving deployments, port visit, exercising and routine operating in areas of interest. The purpose is to declare interest, reassure friends and allies, and to deter (convince a potential aggressor that the consequence of coercion or armed conflict would outweigh the potential gains).

28 responses to “Britain’s future strategic direction #12 – Naval deterrence & presence

  1. I have no problem with hi-lo mix, but being ex Navy and having deployed on ASW roled frigates and AAW roled destroyers, I have to say that 6 of each is simply not enough.

    I know we are trying to be realistic about budgets etc, but there is simply no point in investing in carriers / amphibs if you can’t adequately protect them.

    Thus I would argue for 8 each of T45 and T45 derived T26 ASW specialists. Don’t forget, so called high end vessels can do so called low end tasks if required (even if not so cost efficiently) BUT low end units (such as a C2 “presence frigate” without towed array and relying on CAMM as its primary AAAW weapon) can absolutely NOT substitute for a high end vessel.

    I have argued over at for a C2 based on the Danish Absalon class patrol ship. You could even take the 4.5, Harpoons and Radar straight off decommissioning T23’s, they have smaller crews and cheaper to run diesels, with long range and excellent versatility.

    In the end, ship designs are simply detail. The Government has to agree that the RN provides peace time value, even with units which are built for high end combat. There is a world wide proliferation of anti-ship missiles and modern SSK’s – so arguing for 12 ‘cheaper’ GP frigates and ‘settling’ for just six T45 and six T26 is as far as I am concerned just re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic 😦

    • Agreed, it leaves no room for attrition, and does not take into account deep-refits, and is in fact less warfighting hulls than recommended by the report itself (24 vs 25).

      If I were to account for the above, and the 6:1 ratio of ready vs deep-refit is correct, then I would opt for the following:

      07x T45
      07x T26
      14x C2 (quite content for it to be an Absalon style vessel)
      14x C3

      The reason I stuck with six T45 is because it appears likely that we will never order a seventh, and the T26 at least has the advantage that there are enough EH101’s to deploy two per hull, especially if that hull is a 7000 tonne T45 derivative.

      It is very much a baseline.

  2. Well reasoned. Liked what you said about ARGs. Though I like FREMM you are right that T26 could give us an opportunity to put 2 Merlin at sea off the one platform. We need to add a large ASM to Merlin (perhaps even SLAM……….?)

    Our submarine force is heavily dependent on hydrography.The sea bed is a constantly changing environment. And is surprisingly relatively unexplored. I don’t like the idea of hydrography being farmed out. My main criticism of the River Class is that they were leased sans flightdeck.

    • FREMM is a fine ship, but provides little capability we don’t already have, and is possibly overkill for a cheap Absalon style C2 that would be required in numbers.

      Yes, i would like to see the duties performed by the River class absorbed into the broader C3 build.

      • I think you could argue the toss that both FREMM and T26 are hardly much of an advance on T23. Since posting earlier on I have been thinking about all that trimaran research which seems to have come to nought. It was the large hanger and flight deck to be seen on the “artist’s impressions” that came to mind. If T26 goes to sea with a conventional flightdeck arrangement it will be a waste.

        Though Abasalon is interesting I not sure why people get so excited. It is odd when you enter its “hanger” space to find such a large space “inside” such a small ship. But that large space is in reality quite small. I like the idea of modular this and that, but find in reality it is a non starter. (Especially here in the UK where we wouldn’t buy the additional modules to save money thus make the whole concept a bit redundant. Probably resulting in a flawed vessel overall.)

        I think MCM warfare in the future should be handle by ROVs launched from larger remotely operated “boats.” These could be taken into theatre on another vessel. I am not sure who some think using large ships for MCM is a good idea.

        (I know in the olden days sloops where used to tow sweeps but that is different matter altogether.)

      • True, especially considering that much of the sonar kit from the upgraded 2087 (?) T23’s will be transferred to the new vessels, along with various other bits of kit.

        The trimaran design studies are certainly appealing, particularly so in a platform that could make use of the deck space for a second helicopter and hanger, but the consensus was that it made most sense on smaller vessels.

        It’s not that i like the Absalon to any great degree, but i like what it represents; a cheap general purpose frigate capable of operating in a high-threat environment, even if only for self-defence, and doing so at a low price. This is essentially what the C2 proposal is meant to encapsulate after all, a economical choke-point frigate.

        MCM’s future will indeed be ROV’s, but no-one mines the open ocean, and to put a vessel within circa 50 miles of the shore it to magnify the potential threats to it hugely, in short, you have to be able to afford to lose it, otherwise you won’t use it, thus the C3 is the appropriate platform. Big enough to contain the equipment, and deploy with the amphib fleet.

      • Well I suppose they can carry two Merlins.

        As for Trimarans, well it all depends what you define as a small ship….

      • i think we are unlikely to get more than six or seven C1/T26/ASW specialised frigates, the spare 2087 sets will probably be rotated through refits.

        if the treasury will pay for trimarans then i will cheer then on, believe you me!

  3. Yes, I see where you going. I wonder if we are absolutely stuck with 6 x T45, then at least fitting them with a Cooperative Engagement Capability allowing them to control engagements using Aster 15’s fired from a T45 based T26 would provide a better (more acceptable?) level of air defence capability. In which case we should have 10 such T26’s because we have apparently 8 full sets of Sonar Type 2087 towed array’s. So, 8 sets, with one vessel in deep maintenance period and one in dry dock / refit equals ten hulls in my mind. Bare in mind that an Absalon derived C2 could carry ASW or MCM focused Unmmaned Surface Vehicles in place of the Danes CP90E’s as well as Merlin or Lynx helo’s, they could still be flexible and usefull ships in a ‘high end’ shooting war.

    • I understand where you are going, and agree with the principle but i fear that the T26 as a specialised high-end warship would absorb too much budget from the rest of the ship-building plan, so the extra three T26 would actually lower the C2 (absalon style) purchase by six hulls.

      I do like the idea of CEC on the T45 being able to direct aster engagements from T26 vessels.

      • I also like the idea of CEC on the T45 in combination of Aster missiles on the T26s. Like Jed, I think that 10 x T26 are required however, not only to ensure availability but also to escort any additional merchant navy vessels in a Falklands style campaign.

        However, I think the design of the T26 should be focused on it’s primary escort role, not as a general purpose warship. This should hopefully make them cheaper and mean that the number of C2 / C3 vessels can remain at the levels you describe.

      • I like CEC and aster 15, but i would rather see the money spent on the cheaper Camm and the necessary quieting of the basic hull.

        The sailaway price of a T45, ignoring R&D costs, is around £800 million give or take, and T26 is unlikely to be much under that, perhaps £600 million if we are lucky.

        There aren’t going to be ten of them, and if there were it would mean that additional four would kill eight C2’s, not to mention the fact there are only eight 2087 sets being purchased.

        I don’t see it happening………..

  4. Just a though here, really going out on a limb, as the Merlin’s radar is an excellent peice of kit, could a Merlin (HM2 not one fitted with ASaC Mk 7 kit) flying at say 8000 feet carrying two to four Meteor AAM’s provide “look down, shoot down” capability against sea skimming Anti-ship missiles ??? A couple of hours on “CAP” perhaps 50 to 60 miles out from ‘mother’ ?

  5. £600 million even though they will be using existing Sonar Type 2087 towed array’s and Merlin Helicopters…?

    My heart hopes you are wrong, but my head thinks you are probably right. The reported cost of a FREMM is less than £500 million, surely we should be aiming for this or even less, otherwise it won’t end up being 10 or 8 but probably 6 once future salami cuts are taken into account.

  6. If a T26 was a T45 without the 3D long range air search, a slightly different hanger arrangement, and a different stern arrangement (for towed array) it would lever the costs already sunk into T45 development AND manufactur. The same modules for most of the ship could be built in the same dockyards / facilities, so in reality it SHOULD reduce the unit price of both the T45 and the T26 – hopefull to a point where we could buy a decent amount of them. Again though, for all that we are being pragmatic and realistic about costs, I would really like to see other budgets reduced in order to re-invigorate the RN; we should start by cutting DfID aid budgets (apologies if that seems rather righ wing !).

    • agreed, hull quieting permitting….

      If we accept that technological advances leading to higher availability can keep the deep-refits confined within the non-operational 2/3’s of a ships working life, then we are looking at a requirement for at least 24 high-end warship escorts, and preferably 27, how many of those will be of the non-specialised choke-point frigate variety is a matter of costs.

      Paying for peacekeeping/humanitarian operations from the DfID budget doesn’t sound right wing, it sounds like common sense.

  7. JBT, this is well thought out. It actually fleshes out the criteria for the force balance better than the RUSI paper.

    I more or less agree with your conclusions on the mix of hi-lo but not (quite) the vessels.

    If T26 is equipped with Artisan/CAAMM/recycled 2087 sonar then the cost should be much lower than its competitors and certainly much cheaper than T45. Most of T45’s cost is PAAMS. In fact you could replace Artisan on T26 with SPECTAR and it should still be significantly lower.

    In my view C2 (FRE, APT (N) & (S), NRF) should also be a T26. I am not sure that straight diesel propulsion is advisable in this role and cost savings in design, procurement and running of a shared C1/C2 platform should outweigh potentially cheaper diesel option. The only difference might be sonar and helo but are you suggesting that the C2 vessel would not be equipped with towed sonar array?

    MCMFOR, Armilla, Falklands and Combined Task force could all be accomplished by the C3 Sloop. Essentially a vessel of some 3000 tonnes, diesel propulsion with ability to embark Lynx (if required). Such a vessel would be all gun but could acquire CAAMM at a later date.

    As for Fisheries Protection and survey vessels I think these fall outside the above. The Fisheries Protection could be carried out by a smaller coastal Corvette which could also embark ROV for Coastal MCM and Survey work if required. Something like a Rolls Royce UT-504 might be suitable.

    Scott and Endurance are in a different category altogether . Future replacements for the Echo Class ships might share the same hull as the Sloop design.

    • AAW –

      I think Artisan is certain for T26, as it has been selected for both T23 and CVF.

      Whether T45 should have CEC, and T26 Aster purely comes down to cost, I would like to see it happen…………

      ASW –

      I am persuaded by Jed that one T26, even with two embarked 101’s cannot properly protect a task-group that is expected to operate in a ‘hot’ naval environment. If we intend to keep two separate task-groups (carrier and Arg) then I believe we need nine T26………. unless:

      Could CEC, or something similar, also transmit back data from a 2087/2050 equipped T25 back to the controlling T26, in much the same way that we talk of a T45 treating its accompanying T26 as an Aster silo?

      If both the above are possible then this level of sensor-fusion would be a magnificent force multiplier, and permit a six/six ASW/AAW task-group escorts.

      C2 –
      Would i install a towed array onto a C2, and likewise consider Aster? No, a bow active/passive sonar and Artisan/CAMM.

  8. Just a further thought regarding CEC. It should be possible for the CVF and LPD,LPHs to acquire CAAMM for self protection. CEC on T45 might make use of this in a task group giving better protection. If T26 did get SPECTAR this would certainly widen fleet AAW.

    I am not sold on either SeaRam or Aster 15. CAAMM would seem to offer overlapping capability at no greater cost and fleet wide commonality.

  9. Ref: “Could CEC, or something similar, also transmit back data from a 2087/2050 equipped T25 back to the controlling T26, in much the same way that we talk of a T45 treating its accompanying T26 as an Aster silo?”

    No, not exactly. CEC is specifically about ‘real time’ networking to provide a fire solution to one vessels missiles from anothers. You can certainly network ASW data of course, via old Link 11 or modern Link 16. However acoustic data is characterised by large data sets and throughputs, and possibly even more complex processing than that required by modern phased array radars. So in the ASW battle the sensor vessels tend to do their own processing and then pass track data to the recognised undersea picture via Link. I would think you could not hang a towed array on 1 or more vessels, plus a satellite / UHF line-of-sight link, and transmit all the raw data to the “ASW mother ship” for processing, it would require massive bandwidth.

    So, in summary, the nearest you get to CEC for ASW is the Link 16 picture which would allow a torpedo carrying helo to drop its weapon in the right spot – something we used to do by vectoring it in by voice over the radio.

  10. Sorry should have said: No, not exactly. CEC is specifically about ‘real time’ networking to provide a fire solution to one vessels missiles from anothers fire control system.

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