Wednesday, 21 March 2018

Final cure for Type 45 destroyer propulsion problems announced

In a modest ceremony held on board HMS Diamond in Portsmouth today, BAE Systems, BMT Defence Services and Cammell Laird signed a contract with the MoD to deliver the Type 45 Power Improvement Project (PIP). Significant propulsion problems have hampered the operation of the six destroyers since their construction and it is encouraging that a permanent cure has now been agreed upon.

The RN has paid a high price for pioneering Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) in a major warship. The principles are sound but the selection by government, against the advice of the builder BAE Systems, of an unproven Gas Turbine design has left a painful legacy. Problems with the intercooler-recuperator fitted to the Type 45’s WR-21 gas turbine engines have caused complete propulsion failures. (We covered the complex story of these issues in detail in one of our most widely read articles back in 2016.)

Some media coverage has given the impression that all the Type 45s have been permanently stuck in port for years, but this is far from the truth. Sailing with some workarounds and operating restrictions, developed under the Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP), has allowed them to successfully deploy, including to the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf.

On board HMS Diamond, representatives from the RN, DE&S sign the Type 45 Power Improvement Project charter alongside representatives from BAE Systems, BMT and Cammell Laird. (Photo: BAE Systems)

It would be too difficult to replace the Gas Turbines so instead, the PIP plan is that the two existing diesel-generator sets will be replaced by 3 more powerful sets. The Type 45 will then change its standard operating procedure to cruise on its diesels and only use the GTs for higher speeds.

£280M of funding for the PIP was set aside in the 2015 SDSR. The competition for the contract was split into two parts, comprising procurement, design and integration of the solution, and the physical installation and replacement of equipment onboard the Type 45 vessels. The alliance of BAES, BMT and CL won both parts of the contract, with work set to begin immediately.

The existing diesel generators could be replaced using access paths designed into the ship without cutting the hull open. Seen here in 2015, a replacement Wärtsilä 12V200 diesel generator set is prepared to be lowered into place aboard HMS Diamond. (Photo: BAE Systems)

The cutting open of the hulls to remove the old generator sets and inserting the new plant will be done at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead sustaining more than 100 jobs. CL have large dry docks and years of ship repair and conversion experience appropriate to this kind of work. BAE Systems already has the maintenance contract for the Type 45s in Portsmouth and has the technical experience needed to and support them re-entering the fleet after the conversion.

At this time there is no definite indication which ship will be first to be taken in hand for the PIP in 2019. HMS Daring is currently laid up as a “harbour training ship” in Portsmouth and is a likely candidate. HMS Dauntless has already begun a major refit, HMS Defender has just completed refit and the other 3 ships are active. The first conversion should be completed in 2021, 12 years after the first Type 45, HMS Daring was commissioned in 2009.

As the original shipbuilder, BAE Systems was always in pole position to win this contract. The announcement will be a blow to Babcock who had bid, needing continuity of work for Rosyth and Devonport. It is interesting to note a deepening alliance between Camell Laird and BAE Systems who are also competing for the Type 31e project.



from Save the Royal Navy

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Long Read Update – The Inglis Bridges

Charles Inglis

An updated long read the Inglis Bridges is now available online and available for download as a PDF   …

The post Long Read Update – The Inglis Bridges appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Royal Navy returns to the Arctic – HMS Trenchant surfaces in the ice

For the first time in a decade, a Royal Navy submarine has operated under the Arctic ice. HMS Trenchant surfaced in the Beaufort Sea this week to joining two US Navy boats exercising submarine warfare skills under the polar ice cap.

Ice Exercise (ICEX) is held on a biennial basis and is run by the US Navy with participation from the RN and Canadian Navy. This year USS Connecticut and USS Hartford were joined by HMS Trenchant. The last RN submarine to participate in ICEX was HMS Tireless in 2007, although RN personnel have participated in recent such exercises. The Arctic region is increasingly becoming a focus of competition between the Russians and NATO nations. Since the Cold War, the Russians have used the Arctic as a bastion to hide their Ballistic missile submarines, while NATO has tried to develop skills to hunt and neutralise them. The mineral and hydrocarbons in the region have also attracted the Russians who have built a series of bases in the Arctic, expanded their fleet of icebreakers and claimed rights to large parts of the seabed.

In the wake of the murder of Sergei Skripal by the Russians using nerve agents, relations between the UK and Russians are now at their worst since the early 1980s. Every possible demonstration of British and NATO resolve to contain Russia should be welcomed and ICEX is a timely reminder that the RN submarine force still has under-ice capability. Participation by a T-class submarine in a future ICEX was announced back in 2016 but at times last year, Trenchant’s participation must have seemed doubtful. The 6 active SSNs of the RN’s submarine force is holding on by a small margin but the institutional operating knowledge and experience do remain, should it be called upon. Despite being designed with the ability to do so, as yet no Astute class submarine has participated in an ICEX, although it must be assumed it is only a matter of time before they are deployed to the high North. There had been mounting concern that budget pressures meant that the 7th Astute class submarine might not be built. Fortunately, this disastrous possibility seems to have been averted and Defence Procurement Minister Guto Bebb has now promised the boat will be formally ordered before the end of March 2018. Against a backdrop of tensions with Russia, a major submarine power, 7 Astute class submarines is the bare minimum requirement.

A temporary ice camp (Camp Skate), home over 100 personnel has been constructed on the ice shelf in the Beaufort Sea to support the exercise. Each ICEX has a significant scientific dimension, with the aim to gather environmental data about the ice itself and the waters below. Operating submarines under the ice create additional hazards. Not only are options for surfacing in an emergency greatly reduced, but acoustic and sonar conditions are very different to the open sea. The underside of the ice shelf is not flat with ice ‘fingers’ that extend downward presenting an obstacle for submarines that must rely on specially developed echo-sounders for navigation and to locate thinner ice under which it is safe to surface.

USS Hertford

USS Connecticut and USS Hartford (SSN 768) break through the ice March 10, 2018 (US Navy Photo)

An extraordinary reluctance to officially promote the RN submarine service is in evidence here. While OPSEC considerations are rightly especially sensitive for submarines, the USN navy has provided commentary and images of ICEX from the start, recognising it as a valuable way to promote its work, both to inform allies and deter adversaries.  While CNN has a camera crew onboard the USS Hartford during ICEX, at the time of writing, the Ministry of Defence has not even mentioned HMS Trenchant’s deployment or published a single image about her exploits.


Main image: HMS Trenchant via CNN


from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 12 March 2018

Risks or rewards? The Royal Navy in the South China Sea

HMS Sutherland, currently in Australia and on a tour of the Western Pacific, will conduct a Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea at some point before she returns home. Sister ship HMS Argyll, will also be sent to the region in the later part of 2018. Here we examine the context and motives for these deployments.

Welcome to the most disputed waters on the planet

Under the normal United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) every nation has the right to claim an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) out to 200 miles from its coast. Where the EEZ overlaps with another nation, a maritime boundary that divides the territory in an equitable manner is usually agreed. The EEZ gives the right for that nation to extract mineral and natural resources but it does not have sovereignty over the waters, which are open to all shipping. Only the waters that extend 12 miles from an inhabited coast are sovereign territorial waters.

The South China Sea (SCS) is undoubtedly a major potential flashpoint for future global conflict, with six nations making complex and competing for claims over a series of islands and overlapping EEZs. The SCS competition is the most extreme example of growing global tensions over exploiting the oceans as populations expand with an insatiable demand for resources. SCS sea is a tempting prize, rich in oil, minerals and fishing grounds. Optimistic Chinese estimates suggest there are 125 billion barrels of oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas that could be extracted. Control over these waters also amounts to enormous strategic power because nearly a third of world’s maritime trade, estimated at around £3.8 trillion per year, is carried on ships passing through the SCS.

Territorial claims in the South China Sea. Note the huge red loop that denotes the Chinese claim. (Click for enlarged version) Image: deedavee via Flickr.

Scattered across the SCS are many inhabited islands and reefs of which China has made absurdly inflated claims of ownership. The claim is based on a historical document with little validity, the so-called ‘9-dash line’ which encircles almost 90% of the entire SCS, extending up to 1,200 miles from the Chinese mainland. In a ruling ignored by the Chinese, an international tribunal unanimously rejected the claim as unlawful. Even if China owned these rocks, because they are uninhabited, they would come with no associated territorial waters or EEZ. This is a very different scenario to, for example, the dispute over the Falkland Islands which has had an indigenous population, loyal to Britain, since 1833.

China already has a legal EEZ of 877,019 km2 but claims a total of 3,000,000 Km2. Further claims over islands in the East China Sea are putting it in direct conflict with its oldest rival, Japan. The Trump administration is pursuing a tough stance with China and nations in Asia are increasingly polarised. Some are aligning with China while others are joining ‘the quad’ which includes the US, Japan India and Australia in an alliance specifically to contain China. The UK has long-established ties with these 4 nations and is committed to the upholding of the ‘rules-based-order’ which inevitably put it at odds with the world’s newest superpower.

To complicate matters, in the last decade China has been reclaiming land around strategic islands and reefs and constructing ports, air bases, radar installations and barracks. At what must be enormous expense and inflicting considerable environmental damage, this foothold allows China to claim they are now ‘inhabited’. The vast militarisation project is now effectively a fait accompli, which no one has been able or willing to prevent. These bases offer control of the seas around them as ‘unsinkable aircraft carriers’ and surveillance outposts, putting at risk any naval force that should enter the SCS, even before taking into account the threat from the aggressively-expanding Chinese navy.

Winning the global power competition

The Chinese military has grown rapidly with modern equipment, much of which is derived from a programme of cyber-theft, reverse-engineering or purchasing the best foreign technology. It is not that the Chinese are incapable of innovation, just that if you are in a hurry to catch up and overtake your rivals it is quicker and easier to copy, especially if intellectual property is carelessly made accessible.

Apart from aircraft carriers, the PLAN is about to eclipse the US Navy in major surface combatant numbers.

Able to throw huge manpower and financial resources at any project, China’s totalitarian state can build up its military largely free from the constraints of public scrutiny, health & safety, workers rights or the effects of ‘pork barrel’ politics which slow democratic nations efforts. Even if Chinese defence spending figures were reliable, it makes comparisons with Western nations meaningless as they clearly get far more for the same money. Efficient Chinese shipyards are churning out modern warships for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) at a rate no one can compete with. While the US Navy is spread across the globe, for now at least, China keeps most of its naval forces closer to home with an overwhelming concentration of available firepower in the SCS. China has also built the largest Coastguard fleet in the world, now numbering over 1,000 vessels of various sizes. Some are heavily armed and it these vessels, rather than the PLAN, that have been involved in deadly confrontations with fishermen in disputed waters.

HMS Sutherland is the first RN visitor to Pacific region since HMS Daring in 2013. Warship arrivals in Sydney, Australia are always photogenic.

Ambassadors for ‘global Britain’

A Royal Navy visit to the Pacific region has many benefits. Part of the reason HMS Sutherland’s is in Australia is to display British anti-submarine prowess and equipment in an effort to persuade the RAN to purchase the Type 26 frigate design. The broader remit is to promote British diplomatic and trade interests in the region. Often dismissed as just an excuse for a cocktail party, receptions, presentations and meetings held onboard visiting warships can do a great deal to assist British interests and prestige through personal contact and dialogue. As Britain loosens ties with the EU, its political, commercial and military relationships in the Far East have greater importance, the RN is a vital ambassador as ‘brand Britain’ attempts to extend its reach.

The UK has long-standing ties with nations in the Pacific, particularly with Commonwealth nations and signatories of the five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA); Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore. There is no binding obligation to defend each other like in NATO, rather a loose agreement to cooperate and consult each other in the event of aggression by another nation. Occasional visits by UK warships should not be mistaken for a signal that the RN can make a major contribution to the balance of forces in the region. The RN is simply too small and has higher priority commitments elsewhere to maintain a significant permanent presence. There is, however, great value in conducting naval exercises together, sharing ideas, doctrine and intelligence.

Britain certainly owes the United States a debt of gratitude for their wholehearted assistance in regenerating UK carrier strike capability. Some have suggested that sending more UK warships to the Pacific is a way to thank the Americans by endorsing their stand against China. From a military standpoint, a more effective way for the UK to assist might be to relieve the pressure on US forces by concentrating on containing the Russian threat closer to home or shouldering more responsibility in the Middle East.

Tweaking the dragon’s tail

Speaking while the ship was alongside in Sydney Australia, Commander Canale, CO HMS Sutherland said “I have to get from one part of the world to the other, by doing so I have to transit through the South China Sea — what I can say is whatever I choose to do will be in full compliance with international law,”

Like any warship passage through the SCS, HMS Sutherland is likely to be closely monitored by the Chinese. It is not clear if she will simply pass through or deliberately sail within 12nm of claimed ‘territorial waters’ belonging to one of the new artificial islands. US Navy destroyers have conducted several such legal FONOPs which drew stern rebukes from Beijing and heightened tensions. The Global Times which is a mouthpiece of the Chinese government has already advised Britain “should behave modestly when passing through the South China Sea.”

So far the Chinese have not reacted to any US Navy FONOPs with force. Despite their objections, they recognise that conflict in the SCS could cripple trade flows and devastate the world economy in which they have so much invested. For all sides, the stakes are high and the presence of single warships in disputed waters can be seen as about making a statement and unlikely to provoke shooting. The UK government does need to consider how it should react if, for example, the Chinese were to despatch coastguard ships to obstruct or interfere with the passage of HMS Sutherland. Alternatively, China may do nothing, recognising that valuable trading relationship with the UK is more important.

In 2016 UK exports to China were worth £16.8 billion while imports from China were £42.3 billion. For post-Brexit Britain looking to expand trade outside Europe, relationships with China have increasing importance. China’s neighbours face a similar dilemma, on the one hand, they need to protect their sovereignty in the face of military expansion, and on the other must remain engaged with Beijing, a primary commercial partner.

Further RN deployments in the SCS could have unintended consequences. China is making deals to gain access to a string of naval bases across Asia, Africa and into the Mediterranian. The PLAN already has the ships and ability to conduct replenishment at sea. With several aircraft carriers under construction, China will soon have the capability to project naval power on a global scale. How would Britain respond to a future FONOP by a Chinese carrier battle group in the North Sea? A scenario where the Chinese supply heavily subsidised warships and military aircraft to Argentina is not inconceivable.

Boris goes large

On 27th July 2017, speaking in Australia about the South China Sea The Foreign Secretary said: “One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is to send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area”. As most would recognise, not every pronouncement made by Boris Johnson is sensible or practical and his speech has the feel of off-the-cuff policymaking. Once fully operational, the QEC will certainly be powerful levers for government that will make a statement wherever they go. For that reason alone, where and how they are deployed should be considered especially carefully. Sending a carrier to the SCS is a bigger step up on the scale of escalation than the passage of a frigate and could to provoke a bigger response.

There is a plan for HMS Queen Elizabeth to conduct a ‘global deployment’ as soon as 2021 which could include a transit of the SCS.  For the transit of the SCS it must be hoped that US, and possibly Australian warships, may be added to the carrier group. QE is due to achieve Initial Operating Capability (Carrier Strike) in 2020 and by the following year, the number of F-35Bs available to equip the carrier would probably be a maximum of 10-12. The embarked F-35Bs will not yet be equipped with a full range of weaponry which has to be integrated over a period of several years. There would also have been a relatively short period for the ship’s company and aircrew to build up experience of fixed-wing carrier operations.

It must be assumed HMS Queen Elizabeth would be accompanied on her 2021 global deployment by at least one Type 45 destroyer, a frigate, an RFA and possibly an SSN.

Looking from a naval perspective, in 2021 QE will be a high profile target but not in the same league as a US aircraft carrier, both in terms of the power she can project or possessing the same level of self-protection. Students of Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu will note that he advised: “avoid strength, attack weakness”. Events in the next 3 years may be difficult to predict, China will undoubtedly an even stronger naval and military power but whether Boris Jonson will still retain a position of influence is less certain.

Efforts to encourage nations to adhere to international law should be applauded, appeasement can be a dangerous policy that pushes problems into the future. At the same time confronting an adversary where they are strongest may not be sound strategy or in our national interest. History tells us that Royal Navy warships deployed to the other side of the globe have achieved both incredible successes and suffered bloody defeats.

Consideration of what measures the UK may take to influence events in Asian waters should be planned with the exceptional thoroughness and be commensurate with our true naval strength.



from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

The Deadly Trade

£25.00 GBP

The Deadly Trade is a fascinating and comprehensive account of how an initially ineffectual underwater boat – originally derided and loathed in equal measure – evolved into the most powerful and terrifying vessel ever invented, with enough destructive power to end all life on Earth.

Acclaimed naval writer Iain Ballantyne considers the key episodes of submarine warfare and vividly describes the stories of brave individuals who have risked their lives under the sea, often with fatal consequences. His analysis of underwater conflict begins with Archimedes discovering the Principle of Buoyancy. Our clandestine journey then moves through the centuries and focuses on prolific characters with deathly motives, including David Bushnell who in 1775 in America devised the first combat submarine with the idea of attacking the British. Ballantyne also looks at pioneers in the area such as Admiral Jacky Fisher who helped to revolutionise the entire Royal Navy in the early 1900s.

The Deadly Trade considers the advances in technology during the twentieth century, which helped to make the submarine one of the most feared arsenals in war. Today, nuclear-powered submarines are among the most complex, costly ships in existence. Armed with nuclear weapons, they have the ability to destroy millions of lives: they are the most powerful warships ever created. At the heart of this thrilling narrative lurks danger and power as we discover warfare’s murkiest secrets.


from Save the Royal Navy

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Long Read Update – Operation Black Buck

Each of the reference and journal articles on Think Defence is subject to a regular update schedule. The first of these is the 25,090 word article on the 1982 Falklands Conflict Vulcan bomber missions against Stanley Airport codenamed Black Buck. I am committed to keeping all the Think Defence content free online but a new [...]

The post Long Read Update – Operation Black Buck appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence

Should HMS Queen Elizabeth be fitted with her own missile defences?

In an earlier article, we considered how the RN would use layered defence to protect the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers. There has been particular concern about the lack of defensive missiles fitted to the ship themselves and here we focus on the advantages and disadvantages of fitting the CAMM(M) Sea Ceptor system.

Should the QEC be fitted with Sea Ceptor? The short answer is yes but the long answer is that it would be more complex than it may first appear. A rough estimate would be £25 million per ship to fit and integrate the system. (Not including the purchase of additional missile stocks). With so many other competing priorities for the RN’s constrained resources, it must be recognised that any upgrade to the carriers is likely to remain a long-term ambition.

The case against

Adding complex weapon systems to an aircraft carrier is unattractive for a number of reasons. From and engineering and operations point of view it is preferable to outsource the task to escort vessels specifically designated to protect other vessels.

The QEC were designed to maximise the flight deck and hangar space available for aircraft and there is no internal space earmarked for missile silos. Fitting Sea Ceptor would probably involve adding the silos, one each side on the edge of the flight deck. Additional fire and blast risk to the ship made by adding munitions would have to be evaluated. The silos would need some form of external ballistic protection if placed on the side of the ship, otherwise, they could add vulnerability even to small arms fire or RPGs. Methods for safely embarking and removing missiles when alongside also need consideration.

When surface to air missiles (SAM) are launched, they leave behind smoke and a debris trail. This is an impediment to safe aircraft operations due to the risk of foreign object damage (FOD) caused by ingesting debris into jet engines. Before flying operations could restart, a time-consuming FOD inspection of the deck would be needed which could present tactical difficulties if there is an urgent requirement to generate aircraft stories quickly.

Installation of missiles would require integration with the ship’s radars and operations room. The missile guidance system must be set up so as not to interfere with both the ship’s and its aircraft’s radars and communications. There is another greater challenge to deconflict the system with friendly aircraft. Missiles designed to react in seconds to defend against supersonic threats have to be largely automated so the system must have a robust IFF system (Identification Friend or Foe) to ensure the carriers own aircraft are not engaged. Flight paths around the carrier also need to be designed to ensure they avoid the missile arcs. Additional warfare personnel would also be required in the operations room to control the system and weapons engineers needed to maintain it.

All of these challenges can, and have been, surmounted on other carriers but it is easy to see why it may appear attractive to place the missiles on escort ships.

Despite not having a point defence missile, the QEC does have some hard-kill defences will have 3 x 20mm Block 1B Phallax guns and 4 x 30mm Automated Small Caliber Guns (ASCG). These guns systems provide a measure of last-ditch protection from missiles. Phalanx is effective and may be able to break up missiles but at close range may not do enough to dissipate its kinetic energy and debris could still damage the ship.

Some historical context

HMS Invincible fires a Sea Dart. Despite the large blast deflector behind the launcher, the flight deck is covered in smoke and flying operations were adversely affected.

The Invincible class carriers that preceded the QEC in service were originally fitted with the GWS-30 Sea Dart designed to defend against high and medium altitude air attack. These ships were conceived as anti-submarine ’through deck cruisers’ to operate in the Norwegian Sea where they might expect intense Soviet air and missile attacks. During the Falklands conflict, HMS invincible fired 6 missiles in anger, although the targets were later assessed as spurious. Based on 1960s technology, Sea Dart comprised a large magazine, deck launcher, blast shield, two fire-control radars and miscellaneous below deck equipment. Once fitted with their Phallax CIWS, in such a small carrier, additional space for aircraft was ultimately considered more important and the cumbersome Sea Dart was removed from all three carriers in the mid-1990s. The older carrier HMS Hermes was also fitted with the Sea Cat GWS-22 point defence missile system. Originally developed in the 1950s it could be radar, CCTV or manually aimed but was dangerously obsolete by the 1980s while still fitted widely across the RN fleet. Historically, fitting guided missiles to aircraft carriers was clearly considered worthwhile by the RN.

Early in the development phase of the CVF programme (that ultimately delivered the design for the QEC), BAE Systems was tasked with investigating the cost and feasibility of fitting the PAAMS air defence missile system. Some initial CVF concepts showed the Sampson radar and silos for Aster-15 missiles. Other BAE concepts showed the CFV fitted with the simpler Raytheon Sea RAM.

In 2002 the first round of cost-cutting measures was applied to the design concepts and the requirement for the Aster missile system was predictably deleted. In late 2003 another cost-cutting design review saw the deletion of all hard-kill weapons systems (including Phalanx) and a reliance on soft-kill defences alone. Fortunately, this folly was later reversed.

French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle fires an Aster-15 missile. The ship carries 32 missiles in two double 8-cell A-43 Sylver launch silos, one on each side of the ship at flight deck level. (Photo: MBDA)

The case in favour

The nations’ flagship may have upwards of 1,600 souls on board, cost at least £3 billion to construct and carry an air group potentially worth another £2 billion. Shortcuts in the protection of these expensive assets for modest savings do not seem to make sense. As discussed in an earlier article there is a proliferation of ever-faster anti-ship missiles that put surface fleets at risk.

The PAAMS fitted to the Type 45 destroyers is arguably the best air defence system at sea today and the RN rightly has great confidence in the system to protect the fleet. The T45 may embark a maximum of 48 Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles (Whether the MoD actually has sufficient stocks to provide a full outfit for all deploying ships is doubtful). The Aster is a very effective missile but as fail safe back up, plans to add an additional close range PDMS to the T45 in the shape of the Raytheon Sea RAM were shelved as a cost-saving measure early in their development.

Salvoes and leakers

Assuming an adversary is able to accurately locate the carrier battle group, the most likely form of above-water attack will be a salvo of missiles intended to arrive simultaneously and overwhelm defences. The Type 45 is designed to handle multiple engagements but if enough missiles are fired, some may still get through. It is these ‘leakers’ that are the compelling reason to fit a PDMS to the carrier itself. The Type 45 needs to be in the right place, at the right time, every time to protect the carrier. This does not allow for the possibility of PAAMS becoming serviceable or the attack coming from a blind arc or any number of human or technical failures occurring at the wrong moment. An effective PDMS such as Sea Ceptor on the QEC reduces the gamble that the T45 or other escorts will always perform perfectly, while it is clearly desirable to have as many layers of protection as possible in the face of potential mass attacks.

The Type 23 and future Type 26 frigates are armed with Sea Ceptor and can potentially provide air defence for the carrier. When assigned as close escort, this may restrict them in their critical anti-submarine role where they may need to operate some distance away from the self-generated noise of the carrier group. During the Falklands war, the two modern ASW frigates fitted with the only effective PDMS, Sea Wolf we required to spend much of their time on arduous goalkeeping duties, conforming exactly to the movements of the carriers.

At the time the QEC design was conceived, the RN expected to commission 12 Type 45s and have an escort fleet totalling around 30 vessels. As everyone is now painfully aware, there RN got just 6 Type 45s and its escort fleet is down to 19, with insufficient personnel even to man this modest number. The assumption that QEC will have plenty of escorts to protect her is in tatters. Either pretty much the entire available escort fleet must be dedicated to her protection or we are reliant on foreign escorts with the political limitations and operational challenges that brings.

American carrier USS Theodore Rosevelt fires a RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM). It lacks the range or guidance sophistication of Sea Ceptor or Aster but can destroy incoming missiles further from the ship than Phalanx. Note the launcher sited below flight deck level avoiding blast and debris limiting flight operations. (Photo: US Navy)

Everyone else is doing it, why can’t we?

A quick survey of large aircraft carriers in service across the globe reveals that every other navy has opted to fit defensive missile systems. The US Nimitz class and the new Gerald R Ford have 4 mounts for RIM-7 / RIM-162 Sea Sparrow or RIM-116 RAM in addition to their Phalanx mounts. The ancient Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is armed with 195 3K95 Khinzal SAMs. Even the Chinese navy, a newcomer to the carrier game has fitted 3 x HQ-10 PDMS to the Liaoning which is essentially a trials and training platform and of course, the French navy has fitted Aster-15 to the Charles De Gaulle. Does the RN possess some unique tactical insight that qualifies the Queen Elizabeth class to sail the seas as the only large aircraft carriers in the world not fitted with their own defensive missile system?

Yes we CAMM

When the QEC were being designed the only proven option for a PDMS would have been the ageing GWS-26 Sea Wolf. Still an effective system, it requires dedicated fire-control radars and would be much more complex to install than Sea Ceptor. The Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) project that delivered Sea Ceptor has now given the RN a great opportunity to retrofit a very capable new system to older vessels as it has a much smaller equipment footprint than its predecessor. It does not require dedicated fire-control radar and can be cued using the Artisan radar already installed on the QEC. The missiles are initially cold-launched by a compressed air-driven piston before the rocket motor ignites about 30 meters above the ship. This innovation allows the launch cells to be smaller and lighter without the need for ducting arrangements for blast and efflux. The ship also avoids being temporarily enveloped in smoke and toxic fumes, particularly important for personnel working on the flight deck. The Type 23 frigates carry their missiles in a sealed protective canister. On launch, it breaks out of the top of the canister, expelling some debris. Using silo doors instead, similar to the Sylver launchers, could overcome this issue. Sea Ceptor benefits from a range of around 25km, offering an area defence capability comparable with Aster 15 and well beyond the point defence range of RIM-116 or Sea Wolf.

At the heart of this dilemma is a deeper question about whether UK forces are properly equipped to take on peer or even near-peer opponents (whether in coalition or not). Our potential adversaries may conclude the QEC are semi-showpiece vessels, only really safe to operate in fairly benign conditions against unequal opponents (which in the main, has been the convenient experience for western navies in the past few decades). The failure to properly replace the RN’s obsolete Harpoon anti-ship missiles is another case in point. Alternatively, for a relatively modest investment, we could avoid risky compromises and fit much more powerful defensive and offensive armament to our warships which are otherwise essentially excellent platforms.


from Save the Royal Navy