The U.K.’s October Strategic Defense and Security Review deeply cut the Royal Navy, removing two of three current, small carriers, several amphibious ships and four of 23 escorts. In the wake of the review, we asked readers to imagine their own future Royal Navy, within existing financial restraints. We had done the same for the U.S. Navy some years ago.
Now the progressive U.K. security Website Think Defense has come up with their own proposed future Royal Navy, built around a single high-end task force, augmented by the British equivalent of the Americans’ Influence Squadrons for partnership-building missions. The exact breakdown of the Think Defense “core force” is:
Carrier: One CVF acting as a swing-role asset, able to flex between LPH and strike roles, embarking a mix of F-35s, Rafales, F-18s, helicopters and with accommodation for an embarked force. The second CVF should be retained in extended readiness and not sold so it can be activated to cover surge requirements or refit periods as required. Anchoring the group, CVF, even with a reduced F-35 compliment will be credible and useful.
Maritime Fast Jet Aviation: I still think F-35B offers the best combination of cost, flexibility, interoperability and utility but obviously the back of a fag packet calculations done by the MoD take precedence, so F-35C it is. I also do not see the point of maintaining an FAA fast jet capability as this seems like unnecessary and costly duplication so I would disband the fast jet elements of the FAA and make the F-35 the sole preserve of the RAF. The aircraft could then easily be used across a range of tasks in the most efficient manner possible. No more than two operational squadrons plus OCU/OEU. Longer term, make sure any resulting UCAV can be launched and recovered by CVF (please let’s not let this descend into a CVF argument again)
Anti Air Warfare: Stay with plans for six Type 45 and mature the platform with extra silos, CEC, soft kill and other enhancements to enhance the AAW role. Fitting it with extra surface attack equipment is desirable but we need them to be at the top of their game and not burdened with other expensive enhancements. The money should be spent elsewhere. Some might think the anti-air mission is less likely but given the proliferation of supersonic anti-surface missiles we neglect this capability at our peril. Continue with development of FLAADS/CAMM, integrate with the Slyver silo and develop a containerized solution that is common with the Army.
Airborne Early Warning and Control: As the Sea King ASaC Mk7s go out of service, simply transfer the equipment onto a palletized configuration and use the non-HM2-upgraded Merlins. The longer term future is likely a data linked network of UAV’s but this is some way off.
Anti-Submarine Warfare: Another one of those Cold War relic capabilities but again, low-noise and effective submarines are proliferating and there is also a growing trend in “home brew” semi-submersible vessels that are likely to be encountered. The longer-term future looks again like a data-linked network of UUV/USVs but the current king of the hill is the 2087-equipped Type 23. As these go out of service they are planned to be replaced by the Type 26. Simply put, I would cancel the Type 26 and evolve a Batch 2 Type 45 to fulfill this role. The Type 45 is large, has an Integrated Electric Propulsion system and plenty of growth potential. There are a number of compromises in using the Type 45 hull but in the context of this proposal, worth accepting for commonality and cost benefits. Jed has a post in the queue for this (even though we often disagree, great minds do sometimes think alike!) Total numbers should not exceed six, equipped with the six Sonar 2087 sets from the Type 23s. In light of this proposal the existing plans for 30 Merlin HM2s look excessive so a quantity review might reduce these. Ruthless commonality, yet again, should be the driver for cost reduction and operational efficiency.
Anti-Surface: Transfer the Harpoon launchers from the Type 23s and fit to the Batch 2 Type 45s. Continue development of the FASGW or Sea Skua replacement and the Lightweight Multirole Missile (LMM) for deployment on helicopters and surface craft to counter small, rapidly maneuvering targets.
Land Attack: In addition to the Tomahawk equipped Astute submarines the Type 45 and Batch 2 Type 45s would be fitted with the 4.5-inch guns transferred from the Type 23s. These might be semi unique to the Royal Navy and without the commonality or guided munitions benefits of the more common 127-millimeter or even modified 155-millimeter systems, but they are adequate for now. Evaluate the cost benefits of commonality with the Army’s 155-millimeter ammunition and compare it with an off the shelf purchase of the Oto Melara 127-millimeter with Vulcano ammunition, for deployment in the medium term. A containerized GMLRS may also be a realistic option for precision land attack and more easily deployed on lower value vessels that can more easily be deployed into the littoral environment.
Helicopters: Ideally, I would like to see Merlin and Wildcat replaced with a single type, NH90 or Blackhawk/Seahawk, but recognize that however desirable from a commonality and capability perspective, is unlikely. Heavy lift would be provided by CH-53K that can operate equally well in the land or maritime environment, replacing Chinook, again, however desirable, most unlikely, so, we are left with Wildcat and Merlin. Apart from a numbers review, no change to existing plans.
Amphibious: Retain a single LPD and the three LSD(A)s. Continue investment in fast landing craft and if economically viable, improve aviation capabilities of the LSD(A) and LPD. Pretty much as per current plans, the LPD in extended readiness would provide refit cover and surge.
Other Capability Areas: Invest in a small number of off the shelf UAVs, either the Scan Eagle or Camcopter, operate these as a standalone capability but also ensure they can, long term, integrate with the Watchkeeper infrastructure.
Subsurface: Carry on with plans for a single class of seven Astute SSNs; they provide a hard-core capability that is equally powerful and flexible.
Nuclear: In line with previous posts on the subject, the sixth and seventh Astute, with an additional two, would be a stretched variant, equipped with a modular vertical launch silo that can be used for Tomahawk, Special Forces, USVs or the Trident replacement missile.