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).