Tag Archives: Royal Navy

The Royal Navy’s Type 26

 

Concept image of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

In 2020, the first of the new Royal Navy frigates – the Type 26 Global Combat Ships – will enter service, replacing the current fleet of 13 Type 23s. The ships are designed to be versatile and adaptable, making them useful within a broad range of strategic, operational, and tactical circumstances.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, said of the ships: “The T26 Global Combat Ship (GCS) will be a multi-mission warship designed for joint and multinational operations across the full spectrum of warfare, including complex combat operations, maritime security operations such as counter-piracy, as well as humanitarian and disaster relief work around the world… It will be capable of operating independently for significant periods or as part of a task group and will play a major role in the defence of this country for many years”1.

The Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, also said of the ships: “The Type 26 Global Combat Ship will be the backbone of the Royal Navy for decades to come. It is designed to be adaptable and easily upgraded, reacting to threats as they change”2.

As individual units, the Type 26 frigates will no doubt be potent warships. The intended fleet of 13 Type 26 frigates do indeed represent a flexible and adaptable platform, ideal for ever-changing technological, diplomatic, strategic, operational, and tactical contexts. The proposed armament bears this out:

  •          Anti-air missiles
  •          Anti-ship, submarine and land-attack missiles
  •          Anti-submarine torpedoes
  •          Guns
  •          A hanger to accommodate a Merlin or Wildcat Helicopter (and underwater, surface and air drones)
  •          Additional accommodation for Royal Marine detachments

The frigates is a concept, not just a particular type of ship. It is one that emphasizes wide-ranging utility, speed and cost-effectiveness. These fundamental functions have barely changed throughout the Royal Navy’s history. This quote from blogger Gabriele Molinelli posted on the Defence Management website supports this notion, “The Type 26 is going to reverse the Type 45 situation by adopting proven, legacy solutions for 80 percent of the design, and only innovating in the remaining 20 percent. This is an effort to stay within budget and get a minimum of 13 hulls into the water. Using existing and proven solutions whenever possible does not make the Type 26 obsolete. The ship will still be a great leap forwards in capability as it will be, effectively, the first true multi-mission ship of the “age of the drones” for the Royal Navy.’3. Considering the flexible nature of these warships and their obvious utility, they are understandably an exciting prospect for the Royal Navy and will represent the backbone of the fleet of the future.

But my concern is with numbers, concerns also felt at the highest levels of the military. Recent comments made by Chief of Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, at an Oxford University talk revealed one of his biggest concerns in relation to Britain’s modern armed forces is the number of frigates and destroyers the Navy has4. We often hear talk of how advanced and flexible modern warships are, however, no matter how advanced a warship may be, numbers are of critical importance – there is quality in quantity – for a nation that wishes to retain global influence. With the Royal Navy due to commission two 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers in 2016 and 2018, there is a chance of a distorted allocation of resources from the wider surface fleet.

Concept image of the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier.

A current American carrier battle-group is at a minimum often comprised of, but not limited to, the carrier itself, two guided missile cruisers, 1-2 ASW destroyers or frigates, and up to two attack submarines. To lose one of the new carriers would be unthinkable, even more so because the loss of one would halve Britain’s seaborne strike capacity (or all of it if one of the carriers is sold to the French!). It would thus be fair to assume that the Royal Navy will need levels of protection similar to that which the American Navy affords their carriers when on deployment (additional protection in time of conflict or crisis). When you consider that there will be only 6 destroyers and 13 frigates (Type 23, then 26) for the foreseeable future, factoring in periods in re-fit, ships returning from operations and the sheer importance of these assets, deployment of just one carrier would seriously hamper the Royal Navy’s ability to meet its wider global commitments. Consider the analogy of a football team; a side consisting of only a few world-class players will still struggle to compete against a full team of average players; unable to respond to every manoeuvre on the pitch. If a warship is thousands of miles from a crisis, technological superiority counts for nothing. It is all well and good having an adaptable and flexible warship, but a flexible fleet is vital.

Limited numbers also means that should any ships be lost during a crisis, regenerating forces to replace those loses becomes problematic. We only need to recall the loses sustained during the Falklands; the modern Royal Naval fleet could not sustain such damage. With procurement timelines as they are (many sailors who serve on the new carriers and frigates were not yet born when they were first conceived), it is important the service fights tooth and nail to get its full allocation of 26s in the first round; the MOD and the Navy must learn from the Type 45 fiasco, where construction delays led to spiraling costs and a halving of the initial building programme of 12 ships. Unlike days of yore, we can’t acquire several new warships after an afternoon sparing with the French.

In addition to the routine but important ‘kinetic’ tasks carried out by Royal Navy frigates and highlighted by Admiral Stanhope in the quote above, maintaining influence through ‘showing the flag’ missions remains of critical importance. For a nation disillusioned with liberal interventionist principles, with little thirst for future foreign policy entanglements and yet a desire, and duty, to influence events abroad, soft-power should be of primary consideration for British policy-makers; something the Navy can uniquely provide. The Type 26 will be a valuable asset for providing such diplomatic leverage.

Unlike the Type 45, the Royal Navy must secure its full allocation of Type 26 warships to ensure Britain has the ability to shape events abroad, both in times of peace and conflict. Britain must not allow the fleet to shrink any further, otherwise London must accept its global influence will continue to diminish.

 

Simon Williams received a BA Hons in Contemporary History from the University of Leicester in 2008. In early 2011 he was awarded an MA in War Studies from King’s College London. His postgraduate dissertation was entitled The Second Boer War 1899-­1902: A Triumph of British Sea Power. He organised the Navy is the Nation Conference, which was held in April 2012 in Portsmouth, UK. The aim of this event was to explore the impact of the Royal Navy on British culture and national identity.

 


[1] ‘Design unveiled of Royal Navy’s future warships’ 20 Aug 2012

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/EquipmentAndLogistics/DesignUnveiledOfRoyalNavysFutureWarships.htm accessed on 20/11/2012

[2] ‘Design unveiled of Royal Navy’s future warships’ 20 Aug 2012

http://www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/EquipmentAndLogistics/DesignUnveiledOfRoyalNavysFutureWarships.htm accessed on 20/11/2012

 

[3] Gabriele Molinelli ‘The Type 26 will usher in the age of the drones for the Royal Navy’ 21 August 2012 http://www.defencemanagement.com/feature_story.asp?id=20530 accessed on 24/11/2012

[4] Kirkup, J. ‘Defence chief General Sir David Richards attacks Armed Forces cuts’ 14 Nov 2012 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/9679243/Defence-chief-General-Sir-David-Richards-attacks-Armed-Forces-cuts.html accessed on 14/11/2012

Symmetric Warfare – The Return to Symmetry

The torpedo: enabler of an asymmetric attack….

Asymmetry is a very popular word these days and, in my estimation, one applied too frequently to too many things.  Prof. Robert Farley makes the point that asymmetric expectations lie at the foundations of decisions about all battles.  “Combatants engage because they have different expectations about likely outcomes,” he says.  But not every search for gaining advantage in battle is asymmetric.  Using all available means and conditions to throw an opponent out of balance is a core of Liddell Hart’s indirect strategy.  So perhaps returning to symmetry and conceptually focusing on symmetric warfare would help ease understanding of complex problems related to ship roles and design.

Asymmetry is a strategy of weak against strong.  One side has no chance to match its opponent in a blow-for-blow fashion, and instead uses a type of attack for which the stronger opponent has developed ineffective defenses.  This is more of a conceptual framework than anything tied to a particular weapon, and in fact the same weapon can be both asymmetric or symmetric attacks depending on its use.  Torpedoes launched by a destroyer against a battleship constitute asymmetric warfare, but launched against another destroyer screening that battleship becomes symmetric.  PLA Navy anti-access doctrine and capabilities are asymmetric versus the U.S. Navy, but the same capabilities linked to a more Mahanian concept would be symmetric versus JMSD Forces, or overwhelming versus the Vietnamese Navy.  In the last case we would witness a reversal of roles.

Asymmetry is also a transient phenomena.  Use of torpedo boats was seen by Jeune Ecole as an asymmetric strategy aimed at Britain’s Royal Navy and its commerce, but very soon the British were able to control this threat and reinstate the symmetry by creating the destroyer.  The same torpedo, supported by excellent training, was part of an Imperial Japanese Navy asymmetric strategy in night actions against the (locally) numerically superior American counterpart.  Radar soon nullified this concept, although as Capt. Wayne Hughes noted in his Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, it took some time for the U.S. Navy to grasp the concept of using the radar, in spite of the fact that it was already technically in service during the battle at Savo Island.

…and frozen yogurt surprises!

The advantage of conceptually coming back to symmetry as a guiding principle is seen in the way warships were built and designed in the past.  A battleship was supposed to carry offensive weapons able to destroy the battle fleet of an enemy.  At the same time, armor was to give it protection against similar (symmetric) opponents.  In the case of cruisers the story was different, mostly because of Washington Treaty limitations, but the last cruiser designs without such limits returned to the need to fight opponents of the same class.  For modern ships it would be much easier to think in terms of their primary mission, while taking as a rule ability to fight a similar class opponent.

Looking at a contemporary example, the LCS surface warfare mission package’s primary mission is to counter asymmetric threats, like swarm attack, but it lacks capabilities to counter a symmetric opponent like a missile corvette.  My analysis could be viewed as an oversimplification, but could nonetheless help frame part of what should be a rational discourse among people who have no chance get to grips with real-world CONOPS.  I like the way Master Chief Petty Officer Brett F. Ayer explains Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements.

 

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

 

Modernizing the Polish Navy

 

The Polish frigate Gen. T. Kościuszko

The Polish Navy may be small, but it actively participates in many international exercises and NATO operations.  Its core consists of two unmodernized Olivier Hazard Perry frigates (short hull), three Fast Attack Craft (FAC) upgraded with RBS Mk3 missiles and Thales C2, three minesweepers turned modernized mine-hunters, four German-designed Kobben-class diesel coastal submarines, and a Soviet-era Kilo-class.  In March 2012, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced a long-awaited Navy modernization plan. In contrast with previous practice, the plan has been made public (unsurprisngly, but perhaps unfortunately for readers of NextWar, in Polish).

The new plan foresees replacing virtually all existing ships (except the newly modernized Orkan-class FAC) within more than 25 years. In simple terms, we’re talking about the complete reconstitution of all Navy platforms.  Yet, many people remains skeptical.  One reason is a previous plan, stalled for 10 years, to build a series of Gawron corvettes. Recently Ministry of Defense decided that the ship will be finished as a patrol corvette with ASW capabilities. But this skepticism has a deeper roots and to understand it better we need to look at broader context.

Role of the Navy

Beyond the superficial popular arguments about inadequate military funding, we find more useful reasoning, surprisingly in A.T. Mahan works:

The necessity of a navy, in restricted sense of the word, springs, therefore, from existence of a peaceful shipping, and disappears with it, except in the case of a nation which has aggressive tendencies, and keeps up a navy merely as a branch of the military establishment.

I know I left my sub somewhere….” A former Kobben-class, now a museum.

 

The Polish Navy finds its purpose from the first part of the above phrase, while the General Staff is more concerned about other countries taking theirs from the latter portion.  In fact, both the MoD and BBN (National Security Bureau), following the logic “home first,” have defined the area of interest for the Navy as “Baltic Plus.”  BBN’s recently concluded survey on the security environment of Poland stated that there is no danger of open armed conflict in foreseeable future.  However, Prof. Stanislaw Koziej, who leads BBN, is concerned about the fact that Poland is a frontier country of the European Union and as such is exposed to some tensions and conflicts.  Not surprisingly the most recent investment for the Navy was a shore battery of the Kongsberg anti-ship Naval Strke Missile (NSM), while the next priority is for new submarines, mine hunters, and then ASW helicopters.

Traditions

Defeating the dasterdly Swedes

Poland is geo-strategically located between two traditional European powers – Germany and Russia.  All armed conflicts with these two powers have been resolved on land.  Likewise, the 17th century wars with Turkey ended with a great Polish victory at Vienna, far from the sea.  The only war with an important, although not decisive, naval episode was the war with Sweden.  In 1627, the Polish fleet achieved victory over the Swedish squadron at Oliwa.  The Polish Navy was restituted immediately after regaining independence in 1918.  20 years later, a young and small navy unable to save the country continued its fight at the side of the British Royal Navy.  One participant of these struggles, the destroyer Blyskawica has been depicted by CDRSalamander in his Fullbore Friday series.  The Polish Navy, rightly proud of its traditions, nevertheless historically had little influence on the outcome of wars of the past.  And this is probably the General Staff’s point of view.

Budgeting

A few years ago, the investment budget of all the Armed Forces was centralized.  All projects now compete for resources within the same structure of the MoD.  Such centralization theoretically allows for better spending of scarce money, but it leaves Services without control over their own future.  Even much bigger navies have from time to time had problems in justifying their mission, a problem amplified for a small navy in a continentally oriented country.

Industrial Base

Although there are shipbuilders in Poland with profitable operations, none of them is now involved in warship design and construction.  The dilemma therefore follows: should a navy rely on foreign construction and unknown support or on a local industry which has no expertise.  It is possible to build such expertise over time, but is Poland’s new modernization plan enough to support such a venture?

As outlined above, some skepticism has well-founded reasons.  On the other hand, my belief is that a navy should be confident in its better future, and the reason is simple.  Poland, as a young member of the European Community, wants to be active in the international arena.  Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan allowed our Armed Forces and politicians to learn a lot.  The price of these lessons is high and the next step is discovering that using a navy to express political will is typically much cheaper.

The Plan in Detail (From Maritime Business Poland):

The basic assumptions of the concept include:
· Permanent financing at a level of PLN 900 million per year
· Abandoning modernization of current old equipment in favour of obtaining modern ships
·A three-phase modernization of the Polish Navy, implemented until 2022, 2026 and 2030 respectively
· By 2030, in line with the modernization plans, the Ministry of National Defence plans to acquire, among other things:
– 3 new submarines
– 3 coastal defence ships with a displacement in excess of 1,000 tonnes
– 3 patrol ships with minesweeping abilities
– 3 modern minesweepers
– 2 rescue ships
– 2 electronic reconnaissance ships
– 7 support ships, including an operational support ship and logistic support ship
– 6 SAR helicopters and 6 anti-submarine helicopters
– unmanned aerial systems: 6 reconnaissance planes (3 ship-based, vertical take-off and landing type, and 3 land-based) and 10 mine   identification and destruction systems
–  Rearmament of the Coastal Missile Unit
–  Purchase of two short-range anti-aircraft systems for the defence of main naval bases

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

 

More on International Maritime Security

 

Flower Power: HMS Lotus

What is International Maritime Security?” is an excellent post, framing the question against the common interests, threats, and resources of nations in the effort to keep maritime commons secure.  Why are these dynamics and underlying processes so complex, and what we can do with that knowledge?  Professor Mearsheimer’s work The Tragedy of Great Power Politicsnotes Kurt Albaugh, helps provide some answers.  It discusses great powers’ search for ultimate security, possible only through hegemony.  But it leaves untold the story of great powers’ neighbors. These states have a need for national security disproportionate to the real threat, which Prof. Mearsheimer explains in following way:

When a state surveys its environment to determine which states pose a threat to its survival, it focuses mainly on the offensive capabilities of potential rivals, not their intentions.

Moreover, in such a case the “stopping power of water” likely doesn’t apply, not only because neighbors could share a land border but also because defensive power is not strong enough to check a great power’s short-distance naval assault.  The Impact on the navy is important.  In the event of a neighbor’s build-up, the smaller neighbor’s scarce financial resources would be devoted to building as much war-fighting capabilities as possible, depleting a budget very quickly.  The maritime security mission becomes a “nice to have” item, especially protecting the maritime commons, which is possibly perceived more as a foreign affairs than defense issue.  The corresponding fleet composition is summarized well with another observation made by D.K. Brown in Future British Surface Fleet: Options for Medium-Sized Powers, discussing individual ship design:

This is discussed by Khudyakov, who points out that one can optimise for maximum effectiveness at constant cost or for minimum cost at constant effectiveness.  Carried to extremes, he sees the one leading to what he aptly calls the Super Battleship Paradox, the other, emphasising numbers at the expense of capability, to the Chinese Junk Paradox.  One may, however, wonder if the Royal Navy’s Flower-class of World War II was so limited in capability that it fell into the latter category.

The end result is a navy consisting of a very few “Super Battleships” to defend against the great powers, and under-appreciated fleet workhorses like the Flower-class to carry out International Maritime Security missions.  The Naval Diplomat might offer a solution to that problem.  The concept of a “Fortress-fleet” operating under the umbrella of land-based aircraft and missiles would allow a smaller nation to forgo the “Super Battleships” and develop a fleet much more oriented toward International Maritime Security.  Such “fortress” should satisfy demand for national security, cover the gap between a real threat and its perception, and allow the nation to build much lighter naval forces, which theoretically could be more focused on diplomatic and constabulary missions.  Governments would be also more inclined to invest in dual-use, army and navy weapons like aircraft, instead of very expensive systems with only a naval application.  Rooted in the views of A.T. Mahan, this distant descendant of his original concept answers partially its critics.  Fleets thus freed to get involved in international cooperation in distant waters are no longer inactive and without initiative.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country