Tag Archives: Royal Navy

MFP: Tough Choices For Small Navies

The following is a guest post inspired by the questions in our Maritime Futures Project.  For more information on the contributors, click here.  Note: The opinions and views expressed in these posts are those of the authors alone and are presented in their personal capacity.  They do not necessarily represent the views of their parent institution U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, any other agency, or any other foreign government.

Any attempt to answer question #8 from the MFP faces a problem at a very beginning: If we focus on what should be but isn’t, we eventually risk ending up with a dream fleet disconnected from reality. However, if we focus on what is possible, we risk to be stuck in real-life constraints, unable to conceptualize the next stages of naval development. Therefore, if there appears some fantasy within the my answer below, it means that the right balance is still ahead of me.

Today’s Polish Navy is at the beginning of a modernization process, which assumes construction of conventional submarines, corvettes, patrol ships, mine-hunters, and ASW (anti-submarine warfare) helicopters among others. The dilemma the Navy faces is block obsolescence of most of its assets, which means setting priorities for modernization within the context of a national security strategy based on two pillars — defense of the country and commitment to alliances/cooperation in the field of broader international security.

There is another critical issue to address: Poland’s geo-strategic position and history favors strongly national defense but the same history says that in any serious conflict, the navy will play a rather secondary role. Consequently in cases of significant budget cuts, the choice is as follows:

  • The Navy would invest in submarines as a potent anti-access weapon; surface forces, so useful in maritime security cooperation, will suffer badly, or
  • The focus would be on surface combatants, with a risk of loosing competencies in the operating submarine force, which will be very difficult to reconstruct.

Alternatives offered for consideration would be sacrificing capabilities of larger submarines (interesting to note how the meaning of “large” differs between navies) and instead investing in smaller coastal boats like U210-Mod or Andrasta. Resulting savings should be secured for surface vessel program. That would allow the Navy to maintain its proficiency in the operating submarine force surface vessels fulfilled international obligations. Both pillars of the strategy therefore could be followed, albeit in sub-optimal way.

The surface warship best suited for the Polish or any other smaller navy is linked

Churchill asks, "Why make a battleship when you can build a carrier out of a glacier?"
Churchill asks, “Why make a battleship when you can build a carrier out of a glacier?”

closely to strategy, geography, and advances in technology. Operating in narrow or coastal water puts a premium on small combatants, but if the navy wants to be an active participant in alliances far afield, then demand for seakeeping and self-deployment puts a premium on much bigger ships, unless we accept advanced hull forms. The compromise could be a ship in a range of 2,000 tons. What is possible to achieve in terms of capabilities within such a hull? British naval architect D. K. Brown in his book The British Future Surface Fleet: Options for medium-sized Navies makes a remark about ships’ “unstable designs”. These are ships which are already too costly to be defenseless. Proceeding toward two opposite extreme solutions, one either makes ships cheaper or better arms them: “Chinese junk” or “super battleship”. In a big navy, problems translate to discussions about force structure or “Hi-Lo mix.” In smaller navies the first is useless and the latter is often unaffordable. Just for reference – the Polish Navy projected shipbuilding budget, considered by many as rather too optimistic, is below $300M a year.

The issue is more complicated by the fact that experience and history teaches militaries that any conflict can easily escalate into full-blown war. Therefore, in the case of “unstable design,” they are inclined more towards “super-battleship”, while treasuries driven by other needs and perceived lack of threat would often oppose it. In the past, the solution was to arm a flotilla with asymmetric weapons and make it dangerous for any opponent. This, however doesn’t allow a smaller navy to support effectively allied forces far from its own bases. The modern equivalent of a flotilla could be a sort collection or hybrid of corvette and Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs). If a ship would be more corvette than OPV depends on the threat perception and compromise between the Navy and treasury, within constraints of political, financial, technical, and operational environments. It is also Important to consider if the given country has a Coast Guard as a separate service or solely a Navy. Technically, corvettes and OPVs are very different ships; corvettes offer survivability and armament while OPVs offers endurance and low cost. One proposal would be to trade armament for a low-cost which results in light corvette or up-armed OPV. Another is to enhance OPV survivability, increasing the cost.

Why would anybody be interested in hybrids if well-established solutions exist? Because a corvette is dangerously close to the unstable design. The wartime evolution of the Flower-class corvette, symbol of simplicity and low costs, ended with the Loch-class being the best ASW performer of Royal Navy during the WWII but for the cost of Tribal fleet destroyers. If we take a look on LCS from that point of view, for the full cost including modules we can probably purchase a FREMM frigate. As there are limits to cutting cost, the natural tendency will be to arm the ship better. It would be interesting to speculate what a small navy would make of LCS, in that for many of them LCS would be a capital ship!

When your name is HMS DEVASTATION, you can carry whatever propulsion you want!

Predicting which technology will have the biggest impact in the future is practically impossible. Steam power implementation was discouraged by Royal Navy Admiralty. It gave freedom of movement at the cost of logistical complexity, completely changing operational patterns. Not surprisingly, there was strong resistance to such a big change of the status quo. However, what usually makes the big change is a coincidence of many developments rather than a single technology. All-big-gun ships and the long-range fire of Adm. Jacky Fisher would be of no great value without advances in fire control systems. Equally, steam power without coaling stations around the globe would be disastrous for British Empire protection. My preferred mix would consist of the old and the new — robotics with related artificial intelligence, modularity (with some reservations), and artillery.

Autonomous vehicles have spread rapidly, changing old habits. Its story resembles that of naval aircraft — from reconnaissance and scouting to attack roles. Not long ago, Tomahawks paved the way for manned aircraft attacks. Maybe in the future manned craft would lead swarms of robotic weapons, the human role to assess situations and make decisions on spot?

I expect modularity to be helpful in easing conflicting demands for many roles and tasks expected to be performed by a dearth of platforms. The smaller the navy is, the bigger problems seem. The Polish Navy plan calls for 3 corvettes, 3 patrol ships and 3 mine-hunters. That is all for defending the country and forward deployments. Modularity used by coastal navies should generate much less logistical burden if load-out changes were required between deployments and in proximity to bases. Modularity, however should be implemented cautiously; keep in mind the old truth that you have to fight with what you have at hand, not with what is in the logistical pipeline or on drawing boards. It is an important decision to choose what sets of armament and sensors should be fixed and what could be exchangeable.

Choosing artillery (naval gunnery) may be surprising, but a versatility which some see as surpassed may be restored by advances like Volcano ammunition or by electromagnetic gun. With ranges of fire in the order of 100nm, operations in narrow seas means that there will be cases when major naval bases of opponents will be within range of naval artillery. This should incentive us to study cases like the Soviet Baltic Fleet operating from Kronstadt/Leningrad during WWII. Eventually, it should trigger one’s imagination to ask how Royal Navy would handle the problem of Channel convoys if confronted by German long range artillery installed on French coasts, assuming the latter possesses guided munitions? I believe that for a small navy operating in narrow waters, the paradigm of “stand-off weapon” needs to be applied after careful examination, which leads us again to nothing new, but rediscovery of historic battles.

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

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