Future of the Royal Navy
of the British Armed Forces
|History and future|
At the beginning of the 1990s the Royal Navy was a force designed for the Cold War: with its three small aircraft carriers and a force of anti-submarine frigates and destroyers, its main purpose was to search for – and in the event of an actual declaration of war, to destroy – Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic. The 1982 Falklands War proved a need for the Royal Navy to maintain an expeditionary capability.
However, since the end of the Cold war in the early 1990s, the Royal Navy has been forced to make an ever increasing number of commitments, while suffering a gradual reduction in the size of its surface fleet. Recent cuts have seen the retirement of the Sea Harrier with the Royal Navy sharing the Royal Air Force's Harrier GR7/GR9, until 2010, when the Harrier GR7/GR9 was retired. Until delivery of the Joint Combat Aircraft (F-35) and the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers Britain will have no fixed-wing carrier strike capability. Cuts have also seen the selling of three Type 23 frigates in the 1990s and the early decommissioning four Type 22 frigates in 2010/11.
Over the course of the 1990s and the 2000s, the navy has begun a series of projects to improve its fleet, with a view to providing enhanced capabilities, although many of these have been cut or cancelled. This has led to the replacement of smaller and more numerous units with fewer, but larger, units. The main examples of this are the replacement of Type 42 destroyers with half as many Type 45s and the confirmed replacement of the three 20,000 tonne Invincible-class aircraft carriers with two 70,600 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.
There are currently 6 ships and submarines under construction: four Astute-class submarines (boats 3-6) and the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which began construction in July 2009 and May 2011. Preparatory and design work has begun on the Global Combat Ship programme, which will replace the existing frigate fleet from 2020, as well as a (now separate) scheme to replace a large number of the Royal Navy's minor vessels.
A major source of naval power projection is the aircraft carrier. The one remaining ship of the Invincible class has limited capabilities, due not only to her small size, but also to the retirement in 2010 of the Harrier GR7/GR9. In the 1998 Strategic Defence Review the Ministry of Defence announced that it would replace the Invincible class with a pair of much larger vessels of the Queen Elizabeth class, in a project that was originally designated as "CVF" (Carrier Vessel Future). These two ships, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales, were ordered in 2007 and will each displace approximately 70,600 tonnes and be some 280 metres long, making them the largest vessels ever operated by the Royal Navy. They are expected to be commissioned in 2016 and 2018.
The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review reaffirmed the government's commitment to purchasing both vessels. The Review stated that the Royal Navy will only need to operate one aircraft carrier, routinely equipped with 12 fast jets. The other carrier is planned to be held in extended readiness. These plans will be reviewed in 2015. It was also announced at the time that the carrier/s would have catapult and arrestor gear (CATOBAR) installed to accommodate the carrier variant of the F-35 Lightning II, rather than the short-take off and vertical-landing (STOVL) version previously planned.
The decision to convert Prince of Wales to CATOBAR was reviewed after the projected costs rose to around double the original estimate. On 10 May 2012 Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in Parliament that the government had decided to revert to its predecessor's plans to purchase the F-35B rather than the F-35C, and to complete both aircraft carriers with "ski-jumps" in the STOVL configuration. Present plans are to start flight trials of F-35Bs from 2018, with a carrier air wing fully operational by 2020.
In October 2010, the Strategic Defence and Security Review saw decommissioning of the last 4 Type 22 frigates in service. The SDSR further planned to replace the remaining 13 Type 23 frigates from 2020 with the new Type 26 frigate. Since 2012 BAE Systems Naval Ships at the request of the MoD, is under a 4-year contract to design the warship, known as the Global Combat Ship in export markets. It was formerly known as the Future Surface Combatant. The latest design for the Type 26 was revealed at the 2013 Defence Security and Equipment International exhibition.
Apart from the Type 45 destroyer recently entering service the Type 23 makes up the majority of the navy's escort fleet. Eight of the Type 23s have been refitted and equipped with the highly capable Type 2087 towed-array sonar. The low-frequency Sonar 2087 is described by its manufacturer as "a towed-array system that enables Type 23 frigates to hunt the latest submarines at considerable distances and locate them beyond the range at which they [submarines] can launch an attack. Royal Navy Commander John Payne, Commanding Officer of HMS Sutherland (a Type 23 frigate equipped with Sonar 2087) described the capability of the anti-submarine Sonar 2087 as "world-beating". This was during exercise Auriga in 2010. Further upgrades to the Type 23 frigates include the planned Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (air-defence missile) (Sea Captor) which will replace the Sea Wolf missile system starting in 2016. Like Sea Wolf, CAMM will be VLS launched and will offer a longer range of 1–25+ km compared to the range of 1–10 km offered by the current Sea Wolf. The Type 23's medium range radar is being replaced by the Type 997 Artisan 3D radar with the first vessel, HMS Iron Duke receiving its new radar in 2012-2013. The Artisan 3D radar will greatly improve the air-defence, anti-surface (anti-ship) and air traffic management capabilities of the Type 23 frigates.
Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Capability programme
The Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Capability programme (MHPC) can trace its origins back to 2004 with the C3 variant (or Global Corvette) of the Future Surface Combatant (FSC). C3 was envisioned as an initial class of eight ships, each with a displacement of around 3,000 tonnes. They were to be required to fulfill a wide of range maritime commitments including; mine countermeasures, hydrography, patrol, constabulary tasks and being capable of participating in expeditionary task force operations. It was planned that the first eight vessels would replace the Hunt-class and Sandown-class mine countermeasure vessels currently in service with the Royal Navy. Additional orders would have seen C3 eventually replace the current Echo-class and River-class vessels too. Due to the large size and capabilities, C3 would have complemented the Royal Navy's larger frigates and destroyers, especially with regards to maintaining Standing Royal Navy deployments. In early 2010, C3 was abandoned and on 12 March 2010 HM Government confirmed the existence of a new MHPC programme with similar requirements to the original C3 FSC.
The Strategic Defence and Security Review of October 2010 stated that the existing Hunt-class and Sandown-class of mine countermeasure vessels will be replaced. The replacement vessels will use a common hull and modular design to support the modern mine countermeasure, hydrography and patrol requirements. In December 2010, an analyst suggested that "Current plans seem to point to a single class of vessel about 100 m in length and between 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes displacement. These will deliver on the MCM, survey and patrol requirements using a range of off board systems like USV’s, UAV’s and UUV’s." It was also said that any programme would seek "to replace the Hunt, Sandown, Echo and River-classes" currently in service. During June 2011, BAE Systems and SeeByte of Edinburgh, Scotland, signed a "Co-operation Agreement to pursue business opportunities associated with the UK’s Mine Counter Measure (MCM), Hydrography and Patrol Capability (MHPC) Programme." In January 2012 Dstl of the Ministry of Defence announced a programme - in 'Concept Phase' - with interests in the development of remote mine countermeasure and hydrography systems such as UAVs, USVs and UUVs. Such systems would offer unique capabilities and deliver elements of a wider MHPC programme.
In May 2012 shortly after the Dstl release, the Ministry of Defence published a 'Joint Concept Note' entitled "Future Black Swan-class Sloop-of-war". The MoD publication outlined the future maritime needs and challenges of the Royal Navy and focused on the potentiality of the Royal Navy returning to large numbers sloops as a solution. It proposes a class of around 40 Sloops-of-war, displacing 3,150 tonnes, a length of 95 meters and a low unit price of £65 million. The sloops would incorporate a modular design, including; a mission bay for UAVs, USVs and UUVs during mine countermeasures and hydrography tasks, a large flight deck capable of accommodating a Boeing CH-47 Chinook sized helicopter for disaster relief operations and external module stowage for the ability to add and remove various offensive and defensive weapons when needed. The external module stowage is described as facilitating 'Capability Packages' so that the sloop can be reconfigured for different roles when the need arises. Fixed weapons include a single 30 mm gun, two Miniguns and two GPMGs. For 'Sea Control' or 'war-fighting capability packages' the Black Swan-class would be reconfigured with containerised missile modules for land attack, anti-ship and anti-air missiles in addition to the sloops' fixed weapons. A towed array sonar could also be fitted as well as directed energy weapons. The Black Swan-class would have a core crew of 8 with additional crew added depending on the capability package. For example, in some configurations a crew of 40 would be required.
Like the Black Swan-class sloops of World War II, the current Black Swan-class Sloop-of-war concept is intended to combine various different classes of ships under one single class. This brings cost benefits, due to it being cheaper to operate and maintain a single fleet of one ship class rather than smaller fleets of numerous ship classes. In addition, reduced crew requirements would reduce manpower costs and training would see more standardisation throughout the navy.
As of 2013 it is unclear exactly what specifications and type of ship the MHPC programme will deliver, and whether or not the programme is still active under the MHPC title. In November 2013 it was announced that to sustain the shipbuilding base, three new ocean patrol vessels with Merlin-capable flightdecks are to be delivered from 2017. It is yet to be decided if these will be replacing the three River-class patrol vessels or if they will be in addition to them.
Fleet submarines (SSN)
The modernisation of the Royal Navy's submarine force centres on the Astute-class SSNs and the Swiftsure & Trafalgar Update Final Phase (S&TUFP). In 1997, an order was placed for three units of the Astute class, which was designed as the SSN replacement for the Swiftsure class, with an option for a further two. The fourth boat was ordered in 2007, with boats number 5 and 6 being authorised in April 2010. Eight boats were the official target until 2008; now the MOD officially plans to acquire seven Astute-class submarines: it remains to be seen if this target will be maintained and reached despite the high demands on defence spending. The Defence Industrial Strategy states that a 24-month build drumbeat is needed to maintain the long-term viability of the nuclear submarine building business in the UK.
In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review, the UK Government reaffirmed its intention to procure seven Astute- class submarines.
Ballistic missile submarines (SSBN)
The aircraft carrier's major instrument of power projection is the carrier air group. The larger the air group, the more tasks it can perform. The Invincible class, because of its small size, has only a limited capacity, and is only capable of operating STOVL aircraft, the Harrier GR7/GR9. In 2006 the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service. This saw the front line Sea Harrier squadron of the Fleet Air Arm converting to the Harrier GR9, as part of the evolution of the Joint Force Harrier concept. The Harrier's eventual replacement in both the RAF and the FAA is the F-35 Lightning II Joint Combat Aircraft. The F-35 will be a significant improvement over the Harrier, in terms of speed, range and weapon load. The UK had plans to order 138 F-35Bs for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The financial crisis led to the decision taken in the Strategic Defence and Security Review to immediately withdraw the Harrier GR9 force in late 2010 along with HMS Ark Royal, to reduce the total number of F-35s planned for purchase by the UK, and to purchase the F-35C CATOBAR version rather than the STOVL F-35B. By May 2012, the government had decided to purchase the short-take off version, the F-35B instead. In July 2012, the Secretary of State for Defence stated that an initial 48 F-35Bs will be purchased to equip the carrier fleet. In September 2013, it was announced that the second JSF squadron would be the Fleet Air Arm's 809 NAS.
The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review states that the Royal Navy will operate two types of helicopter in the future - the AW101 Merlin and the AW159 Lynx Wildcat. The anti-surface/anti-submarine mission remains the purview of rotary aircraft; in small ships this is the updated Mk8 version of the Lynx. The Future Lynx program has seen 28 of the new helicopters, baptized the AW159 Lynx Wildcat, ordered for the Royal Navy. However, in the carriers and in later frigates, the larger and more capable Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter is used. There are 38 Merlin helicopters in service, and an upgrade plan intended to increase their flexibility of use until 2029 is planned. In late 2009 it was announced that the Fleet Air Arm would lose its remaining Sea King HC4 helicopters, their place being taken by Merlins upgraded and transferred from the Royal Air Force (RAF).
The future AEW capability of the FAA is the "Crowsnest" programme, which intended to replace the current Sea King ASaC7 fleet due to retire in 2016. Current plans will see Crowsnest enter service in 2022 (with a main gate in 2017) acting as a roll-on/roll-off fit for the FAAs Merlin HM2 helicopters. The six year capability-gap between the retirement of the Sea King ASaC7 fleet and the entry service of Crowsnest has been the source of much criticism. A recent PAC report, however, has revealed the Main Gate decision for the Crowsnest to be around 2017.
Lightweight Multirole Missile; A short range, supersonic anti-ship missile for use against small surface warships, patrol vessels and craft. The missile is due to enter service around 2015 and be deployed on the Fleet Air Arms new Lynx Wildcat maritime helicopters. Deliveries start in 2013.
The Royal Marines
- Global Combat Ship
- CVS401 Perseus - a supersonic cruise missile currently under development by MBDA along with the UK and France.
- British replacement of the Trident system
- European Union defence procurement
- Future of the Royal Air Force
- Future of the British Army (Army 2020)
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- "Fact Sheet 9: Carrier Strike". HM Government. 19 October 2010. Retrieved 27 October 2010.
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- "New Royal Navy Type 997 radar is put through its paces on the Isle of Wight". 13 September 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
- Navy matters - Global Corvette
- Hansard written answers 12, March 2010
- Strategic Defence and Security Review, October 2010
- Ministry of Defence Centre for Defence Enterprise (26 January 2012). "Remote Mine Countermeasures & Hydrography" (pdf). Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. p. 12.
- Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
- FUTURE ‘BLACK SWAN’ CLASS SLOOP-OF-WAR: A GROUP SYSTEM, page 3-14
- FUTURE ‘BLACK SWAN’ CLASS SLOOP-OF-WAR: A GROUP SYSTEM
- "New offshore patrol vessels for Royal Navy". Ministry of Defence. 6 November 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013.
- Defence Industrial Strategy: Defence White Paper. UK Ministry of Defence. December 2005. p. 75. Retrieved 2006-12-17.
- Hewson, Robert. "UK slashes F-35B numbers but might look to split buy with F-35As." IHS Janes, 27 July 2012.
- UK seeds Crowsnest assessment work 17 April 2013
- NAO - CVF report