Saturday, 11 May 2013

CVF, the NAO and a lot of missing capability...


The National Audit Office report (NAO) into the decision by the UK MOD to change the procurement of the new carriers from the conventional to the short take off variant (CTOL and VSTOL respectively) has been released. The full report can be found HERE, and is well worth a read. At some 40 pages long, it provides a fascinating insight into one of the more controversial decisions taken in the last few years. 

The background to the situation was the decision taken in the 2010 Strategic Defence Review to modify construction of the two CVF vessels from carrying the VSTOL variant of the F35, to carrying the CTOL variant. This change would also allow the planned F35 buy to not only carry out the Carrier Strike mission, but also fulfil the RAF Deep Penetration Offensive Capability (DPOC) requirement, which in turn was borne out of the old Future Offensive Air System (FOAS), which was designed to replace the Tornado GR4. Under SDSR, the intent was that the RN would only operate one carrier, but with CTOL aircraft embarked, while the second hull would either be sold off or held in long term reserve.

Following an in-depth appraisal of the costs and technical challenges associated with the project, and coming at a point when the 2011 equipment plan was proving highly challenging to bring in on time and on budget (a key aim of the current Government was to balance the equipment programme), the decision was taken to revert back to the previous plan. The NAO report was intended to investigate this decision and identify how much was spent in total reverting back to previous plans.

In total the NAO estimates that some £74 million was spent on the project which must be written off – a fairly substantial expenditure to incur in just two years. But, it also highlights that due to the decision to cancel now, further losses of nearly £750 million were avoided which were likely to have been incurred had the decision been taken to go with the EMALS catapult system. Additionally it notes that entry to service would have been delayed by some three years – unacceptably long to CDS.

The report will no doubt be chewed over for some time to come by many on the internet and wider media. But Humphrey wanted to highlight a couple of factors in the report which struck him as being particularly interesting. Firstly, the report perhaps shows the immense difficulty associated with making changes to major defence projects these days. When procuring expensive equipment, much of which is often unproven and not fully derisked, there is a large financial burden attached to this. The reality is that if you want to have world leading capabilities, you need to be prepared to invest a lot of capital and have a large pool of funds available for the inevitable cost growth as things go wrong.

To the author the fact that the MOD actually cancelled the project is significant – making a ‘U-Turn’ to a ‘U-Turn’ is never easy and politically extremely difficult. One should be hopeful that although money was written off, the fact that the MOD felt able to recommend the abandonment early on shows that the days of ploughing on with projects, throwing ever greater amounts of money into it are perhaps drawing to a close. It would have been very easy for Ministers to reject the recommendation and take far less political heat for doing so than cancelling – do not underestimate how difficult taking this decision would have been.

CVF


The view from the Crowsnest
The next point of interest is the details in the report as to how long it will be before CVF is fully operational. On current plans QUEEN ELIZABETH will begin sea training within a couple of years, and start to embark helicopters and conduct limited marinisation trials of the JSF. But the report notes that we are still 10 years away from seeing a fully worked up carrier group capable of carrying not only the F35, but also a fully operational AEW capability in the form of the Crowsnest project. This project is the successor to the ASACS Sea King variant, which is being withdrawn in 2016. The project has repeatedly been deferred in recent years, and it now looks as if the MOD will not have a full capability until 2023 – this will mean that there will be a seven year gap when the RN hasn’t got any AEW capability while the system is worked up.

In practical terms this is not as terrifying as it may sound – to all intents and purposes the AEW capability has hardly been exercised at sea for many years now, with the ASACS fleet instead working primarily in OP HERRICK. Outside of some limited deployments for ELLAMY it is hard to recall when the RN last put the AEW capability to sea in a credible manner. The ASACS force is a phenomenal ISTAR platform and has genuinely superb capabilities, but it has very much become a purple asset used across defence and not just a carrier asset.

Additionally, if one considers that by 2023, the UK is unlikely to have significant numbers of F35 in service (open source publications are hinting at a squadron by 2016, which may mean further squadron by 2022) then one realises that CVF in its early years is going to have a sparse flight deck. The chances of needing an AEW capability is slim as for the first few years of its life, there simply wont be that many aircraft to fly off the deck needing it. So, on the one hand we should naturally be concerned that a very expensive aircraft carrier capability will not see its full potential, but on the other hand, the loss of AEW by itself is unlikely to make a major difference to the utilisation of CVF in the first few years.

What is perhaps more worrying is the hints in the report that the MOD has deferred expenditure on the associated MARS supply ships until after the next defence review. There is a requirement to replace the now very elderly ‘Fort’ class stores ships which support the carrier fleet, the oldest of which are now nearly 35 years old. Deferring the decision on ordering the replacement (likely to be a three hull class) means that the MOD will have to run on the very elderly fleet of RFAs well into the 2020s. It is all very well having a brand new aircraft carrier, but when you are reliant on a nearly 40 year old store ship to provide your dry supplies, you suddenly have a critical point of failure.

The problem is that RFAs seem to lack the high profile support needed to get through difficult planning rounds (one only has to look at the continuous deferment of the MARS programme to date). The CVF is a great capability but it needs to be fully supported, not just by aircraft and escort ships, but also by a proper fleet support chain. The question is surely how effective will CVF be if she has to rely on Fort Austin or Fort Victoria to provide the logistics to stay at sea?

Increasingly it is becoming clear that while the CVF offers amazing capability on paper, the reality is that until the mid 2020s it will not provide a truly modern capability able to generate carrier strike and operate with modern ships, escorts and aircraft. In the rush to get the carrier into the programme, one must wonder whether too little attention has been paid to prioritising the support elements, as funding was instead diverted to land based operations over the last decade. The author has a vision in his head of a lonely CVF with maybe six jets and a small number of helicopters in the early 2020s, escorted by a middle aged type 45 (youngest will be 10 years old), an elderly Type 23 (youngest will be 20 years old) and a geriatric stores ship (over 40 years old). Is this really the positive young and modern Royal Navy we so desperately want to be proud of?

F35

RAF Woes
More broadly the report highlights the wider problems facing the UK. Firstly it notes that the RAF scrapped the DPOC requirement, meaning that there is going to be no replacement for the Tornado GR4 until the 2030s as the Typhoon OSD approaches. In practical terms this means the RAF is losing a very substantial chunk of capability within the next few years without replacement. The Tornado force is already beginning to be run down, and is likely to be out of service by 2018 without direct replacement. This means the RAF will have lost over 140 airframes, and a huge swathe of capability. In the same timeframe it will be operating a Typhoon force optimised for air defence, and which seemingly still hasn’t got a fully integrated ability to operate Storm Shadow or Brimstone (both immensely capable weapons) and which will have only a limited number of assets to cover both the air defence and expeditionary warfare roles. If as publicly reported the JSF is only beginning to enter service in very limited numbers, then you quickly realise just how limited RAF capability will be soon. In 2003 it operated four fast jet fleets totalling some 450 aircraft, but by 2018, barely 15 years later it will be down to the Typhoon fleet which is likely to only have some 100 aircraft operational at anyone time, and also maybe 16 JSF as a shared RN/RAF asset.

While it is fashionable in some internet forums to knock the RAF as an evil conspirator trying to destroy RN fixed wing aviation, one only has to look at the scale of how bad things are getting for the RAF to understand how limited the UKs air expeditionary capability is likely to be until the mid 2020s when the Typhoon and JSF force are hopefully at full strength. We are in for a period of at least 10 years when the RAF will be a far less capable force than before, with little hope of seeing capability reintroduced for at least further 10-15 years. One wonders whether the decision to scrap the DPOC programme will go down as one of the most rued decisions of future generations of RAF planners.

Finally one has to consider the financial challenges ahead. Humphrey has previously written about the problems of the current equipment programme funding, and the limited ability to absorb risk in the contingency fund. Reading the NAO report one notes that firstly the cost of absorbing the operation of a second carrier could be as high as £60 million per year, which would be extremely challenging to find in the current RN budget without commensurate cuts elsewhere. Secondly it notes that the costs of the CVF project is likely to rise as final costings are not yet known – given the limited ability of the EP to absorb cost growth, one has to worry about the 2015 defence review and whether sufficient funding really exists to bring the carriers into service without having to make further cuts to other programmes.

Conclusions
The NAO report makes for interesting and frankly worrying reading. While for years many have gone on about how capable the RN will be once CVF enters service, the fact remains that the UK is procuring a capability where cost is growing, and where the final bill for producing a fully worked up carrier group is likely to be extremely expensive. The fact that the MOD is having to defer and take risk elsewhere means that while in time the CVF will provide the UK with a truly world class ability, there is likely to be a prolonged period into the mid 2020s where one wonders whether the carrier strike ability is more Potemkin than we would perhaps like. ..

41 comments:

  1. I may be missing something here, but I thought it was the JCB that "scrapped" programmes, not RAF planners. Looks to me as if someone at that level decided that DPOC was actually a construct around a GR4 replacement, rather than a rational capability requirement. Particularly given TLAM, and F35 + Storm Shadow aboard a carrier....

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  2. Shame in my view we didn't keep RFA Fort George, newer than both the Fort Is. Is it too late to reactivate her?

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    1. She's partly a tanker, but single hulled, so no good for that role - limited use. Last time I looked she's been sitting in Liverpool completely destored and all her tooling etc has been removed (before the scousers got really busy).

      Cold hard truth is that the old Forts are more useful as "stores" ships than the new.

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    2. And now that I've looked again, she left in January and is probably half-demolished at Leyals by now....

      http://www.leyal.com.tr/images/FG.jpg

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  3. 60 m/yr to operate the second one, having the capital cost for it running at 150m/ yr anyway?

    I guess that is just the cost of running the ship, and airwing would be extra?

    Cheers,
    ACC

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  4. One must not forget what the background of the NAO, the MOD and others are. NAO's mission is to find economic efficiency in the long term. Hence the focus on actual costs savings and not all on operational planning. MOD is suppose to be about operational planning first, costs also but not central. Given the fiscal environment, costs seems to triumph the former. Then let's not forget the historical trend. F-35 and VF were planned long time ago without much though--ie F-35 faults, actual CVF deesign and now Crowsnest delays. Actually it's quite the same as buying a new gadget. You should never just click and save.

    On RFA, the F-35 can't take off from one.

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  5. "In total the NAO estimates that some £74 million was spent on the project which must be written off"

    Does the NAO give a breakdown of the £74m cost? Around £37m / year seems astonishingly high.

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  6. Thoughts?

    Only 8 T26 purchased, first 2 T45's sold off.

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    1. Yes, this may well happen. I think that only the 8 ASW T26s will be built and the GP version will be canned. The T45s will also be vunerable to being mothballed/sold. A slow-motion car crash is happening before our eyes.

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  7. DPOC was Deep & Persistent rather than Deep Penetration, no? And effectively replaced by FSAC even if they're not quite the same. Could also throw the RAF's fantasies about getting LRS-B into the same basket.

    If you want middle-aged/elderly escorts, compare the most recent deployment of the Stennis group to the Gulf which had a core of CG-53 (commissioned 1987) and DDG-60 (1995) with temporary attachments of various other Burkes, T45 and Horizons (as an aside, it's interesting to see the USN relying on the Europeans as they are apparently struggling to generate sufficient Burkes for the Gulf, even if the current environment is atypical).

    I'd also venture to suggest that you can't simply compare now with 2003 for the RAF. Partly just because what matters is the demand side, not the supply side. If the requirement has changed then so should your fleet.

    And it's pretty clear the world has changed, in a world where the USAF is training more unmanned than manned pilots and the RAF is talking about being 1/3 unmanned within a generation. Plus all the single-use UAVs that the RN can fire from its SSNs. Plus all the ways that eg Gulf War 3 is currently being waged against Iran by means that don't involve the delivery of a big lump of explosive. Restricting tanker insurance isn't nearly as sexy as things that go bang, but it's been more effective than the Combined Bomber Offensive against German refineries in WWII.

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  8. I think it is highly likely the 1st Tranche of Eurofighters will be retained well beyond the current stated OSD. Also the integration of Storm Shadow will be forthcoming before the Tornado is retired.

    Recent comments made by Mr Hammond suggest a big debate regarding the manned ac vs UAV mix. If the respective ratios does turn out to be 30:70, then 48 F35Bs plus a similar sized order for either F35As or F35Bs late in the 2020s when Typhoon is going actually means you have an overall fleet of 300.

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    1. They should make the announcement now to give the RAF the A model. No one envisions all RAF pilots to switch to STOVL and i bet many of them wont like it.

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    2. Under no circumstances whatsoever should there be a split-fleet buy. The range differential between A & B should not be a game changer.

      If we stick with only 48 B frames we are locking ourselves into a repeat of fleets that are too small to support effectively.

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    3. Nothing wrong with RAF using the A version.

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    4. Surely for the DPOC requirement the C model makes sense and offers the opportunity to look at Cats and Traps further into the future when hopefully we will be more aware of all the costs.

      The Indians are refurbing Jaguars long after the RAF / AA have retired them and It ought to be possible to cover this by assembling all the Tornado airframes available across Europe in the UK - especially now that we're told it's capabilities not platforms.

      This would allow the UK to postpone decisions on the eventual replacement.

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    5. Surely for the DPOC requirement the C model makes sense and offers the opportunity to look at Cats and Traps further into the future when hopefully we will be more aware of all the costs.

      The Indians are refurbing Jaguars long after the RAF / AA have retired them and It ought to be possible to cover this by assembling all the Tornado airframes available across Europe in the UK - especially now that we're told it's capabilities not platforms.

      This would allow the UK to postpone decisions on the eventual replacement.

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  9. RE: "stated OSD. Also the integration of Storm Shadow will be forthcoming before the Tornado is retired. "

    Which will come first, time-wise?
    - that stated integration
    - or the next-gen Storm Shadow that is much smaller, and thereby more easily intergrated

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    1. And powered by unobtanium with a similarly constructed warhead then?

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  10. What a farce CVF/F35B has been. We are going to end up with 12-15 escorts, geriatric stores ships, further cuts to the amphibious forces, no replacements for Ocean, Argus or Diligence and the MHPC programme kicked into the long grass. I sometimes wish we had never decided to build new carriers at all.

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    1. In which case we wouldn't have needed the amphibs, escorts or stores ships either. Some SSK and MHPC for home defence and jobsa guddun.

      The carriers and F35B are not the cause of the decline in fleet numbers. SDR98, SDR New Chapter and SDSR 2010 have all been very clear that the Defence Policy of HMG is to be able to intervene militarily (albeit at a limited scale) around the world.

      The problem is that HMG and the Treasury have elected (over the last fifteen years) not to actually fund that required to execute their own policy.

      It's not a question of affordability, it's a question of governmental choice. Simple point - often forgotten.

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    2. So all nations with amphibious ships, escorts and stores ships also have aircraft carriers? I think not. All of the above assets would still be needed whether we had aircraft carriers or not. A complete red herring of an argument.

      The CVF/F35B project has contributed to the decline in fleet numbers because it has always been obvious that there would not be enough money in the defence budget to adequately fund future equipment programmes. This was recognised 10-15 years ago when we were still at the planning stage. CVF/F35B was prioritised so it was inevitable that there would have to be significant cuts elsewhere.

      No future government of any colour is going to significantly increase defence spending in real terms, in fact things are likely to get appreciably worse. That being the case, money spent on CVF/F35B cannot be used elsewhere and the whole project will continue to be an unacceptable drain on dwindling resources.

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    3. The two biggest problems with CVF have nothing to do with RN plans as if a branch of the armed services can have any agency of its own. Look to the government for fudging the build. And if you want to lay blame for eating the equipment budget look to Eurofighter not CVF. As for F35b again it is the RN but the RAF to blame. Quick to can Harrier to keep Tornado and Eurofighter going and yet want to be the service to fly fixed wing assets off the new carrier. As precision guided munitions of all varieties eat into all areas of land attack and the Army's preference for AH and carrier operations coming from the other direction it seems the two senior services are pretty well placed in the future for looking after much of their own air capability, whither the RAF?

      As for an replacement Ocean how much extra aviation capacity do you want? If you see CVF purely in terms of strike I would suggest you broaden your horizons. During the Invincible era for the most the RN was really only a two-carrier navy so 2 CVF are really one for one replacements. Ocean has been worked hard and proved that we really need two such vessels. We live in a time of straightened economics. In tonnage alone we are gaining 40,000 tons. Working with the US CVF gives us a much more credible platform whether working in support of USN carrier operations or supporting US amphibiois operations. And it over doubles European capacity.

      MHPC is much like that Black Swan concept that surfaced a while back a joke. Three different vessel types and the solution is one hull? If mine hunting is to be conducted by USV in the future I would suggest you would want to maximise deck area to handle the robots. Even though the Echoss have a large working space I think you want more if you are going to replace 4 or more SRMH. That is if the ship you are going to use is as big as Echos. One of the reason why they are so big is that they have high endurance and so there small crews can have lots of space on long deployments. That is why a lot of the accommodation and bridge are amidships which of course eats into how much space aft there is launch ROV and sonars etc. One would suggest that whatever robotic system gets deployed it won't look like a torpedo with a little laser as seen in many of the concept pictures. It will probably be a ROV carried into position by something like the German SeeHund (25m long 99 tons in weight.) Now that large size and comfort maybe good for OPV. But is the UK going to field a 3000 ton OPV without say aviation facilites which would push the bridge back for'ard? You can push the needs of the various tasks around all day and you won't get a satisfactory answer. Better 3 programmes that answer specifics needs than trying to make one fit all.

      When it is time to replaced Diligence I suspect MoD will repeat what they did when she was procured in the first place and buy another civilian hull. Probably for a lot less than the cost of a Eurofighter or an F35.

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    4. hi Steve,

      I profoundly disagree on the value of Typhoon. Its a phenomenal platform which will have massive value to the UK and beyond for many years to come. I've never seen any suggestion in credible quarters that the cost of Typhoon has impacted on the CVF or RN plans, although it is a common line from those who see conspiracy.

      There is no need for a second LPH hull - if you look at SDSR, it is assuming a landing force vastly smaller than the current one in 2010 (IIRC sub 2000 troops), which means that the LPD and LPH roles can easily cover this. In extremis, the second CVF hull could do the LPH role. there's never been a need for a second Ocean either, as the RN has had three CVS hulls for most of her life as a 'second deck' which did the job well. The second CVF will likely fill a similar role (much as with the French Clemencau and foch did).
      The key point on MHPC is that its not just about platforms, but about capability. It is essential to understand that the next 15-20 years will be about bringing the maturing technology into service, and that the new hull is very much a last part of the process. Focus on where the money is being spent now, and you'll see some very interesting capability emerging.

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    5. Agree with Sir H.

      Like it or not, yes PoW will likely be a massive amphibious platform. Not the best for a carrier--I'm not sure how close to shore it can get--but it's the reality of the situation. Not forgetting upgrading Ocean and the LPD may work. And as Sir. H pointed out, the landing force is much smaller--not one is aiming to land the entire 3 CDE at once--the UK isn't the US.

      I'm not privvy to the role of the MHPC. But the RN's conventional punch must be strong in all levels. Doesn't have to be a giant--like the US.

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    6. Where to begin?

      I never said there was an official MoD requirement for a second Ocean class LPH. All I said was that given how hard she has been worked she has proven the worth of the LPH to the modern RN and that a second of class would be welcome. It has also shown that perhaps that is was worth building the ship to full military standards, whatever that means these days. All that irrespective of whether an Invincible was available or not. Further perhaps you should go to research Invincible class availability? You will find that despite being a supposed three carrier nation we have for the most part only be really truly operating two; that points to CVF's future availability. Lastly I think you overlooking the importance of the LPH's specific features. Having gone from stem to stern, and engine room to bridge, in both classes it really shows that the Invincible's LPH capability is very secondary even though it was a designed in feature. Ocean, for her faults, is very well thought out. The UK would have been well served by having 2 x LPD, 2 x LPH, and a group of supporting Bays, giving our operational tempo which is no way comparable to USN USMC MEUs.

      As for the reduction in LF/EMF. Well as we are going to have at best for the next few years Ocean, an Albion, and at best 2 Bays to deploy in an emergency a reduced force just means no ship operating in overload. That is a plus. I know to you as somebody who belongs to a service that enjoys living in holes a crowded ship may seem luxurious. But being at sea is wearing, especially in a crowded ship, it degrades the LF. One of the key reasons behind using amphibious warfare is that it allows states to imply threat and withdraw it without encroaching on another's territory. For that threat to be credible the LF needs to be kept at peak. There is only so long this can be done. Therefore a reduction in the proposed size of the LF isn't really a reason for not having a second LPH or more specialized amphibious shipping of any type. Just because the Parachute Regiment takes to the sea every few decades it doesn't mean the RM (or 3Cdo) doesn't need that lift full time. Actually it could be argued the more amphibious capability we have to head off crisis, the less need to worry about follow on capabilities or re-enforcing 3Cdo.

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    7. As for CVF in the LPH role I think you are probably a little caught up on the idea of strike, discounting the chance of the possibility of any other conflict that doesn't involving chasing Third World tribesmen with AK47's around, and you are not thinking about how CVF will fit into Western naval capability in the coming decades. Though CVF is being touted by many, some who should know better, as a mini-CVN it isn't. We don't have the budget to furnish it with a few dozen F35b and deploy it like a USN CBG with a few escorts to the word's hot spots. What we are getting is a very flexible platform that will be in effect Invincible plus, including the latter's LPH capability. All the larger non-American NATO members bring extra capabilities that are odds with the true frigate navy make-up. Do you think in the next CVF will be in the box with US CBG? No it will be on the screen with a squadron of Pingers and local CAP. Or it will be with the US ARGs as a base for not only FAA F35 and helicopters but USMC F35 and helicopters too. CVF will be a very useful supplementary capability to the USN as the latter rebalances it forces. CVF will be fast enough to keep up with both CBG and ARG. Currently no UK amphibious have the legs to keep up with the USN's bench mark of being able to move a group at 20kts; CVF can do that Ocean can't. CVF is being purposefully designed to carry a large range of helicopters and it is big enough to carry to them in good numbers. You speak as if helicopters are secondary resources and amphibious assault a second rate capability. They are not. Far from it. You also seem to think that we will have the resources to send both CVF to sea. We won't for a majority of the time if ever. Even if both are in the water there will be none too minor issue of having a worked crew up to take the second CVF to sea. Lastly as far as I am aware there is no Ocean replacement in the pipeline, I don't think the plan is for 3Cdo to go completely without helicopters.

      And now for MHPC. I take it you are one of those who think an ISO container full of wizardry slung on to the back of any old hull is going to replace SRMH? Though I think robotics will open a whole range of new capabilities I think you have to be careful not to do a Sandys and overreach with your faith in the high tech. I can see for example ROV being launched off unmanned vessels being controlled from a mother ship. Even if that mothership is just any hull with an ISO container sitting on the flight deck. But I can't see the unmanned vessels being small. There is everything from the sea to command and control to power (be it generated or battery) to structural support for the ROV to be considered. How many systems per container? How many personnel to support each system? If the system is to be deployed by road and air what about vehicular support? What other consideration say support for divers? At the moment all this is packaged into some small but very capable ships. If you unpack it all has to be moved. How many systems to replace each SRMH? What about EM and other testing if it is to be used anywhere and everywhere? Actually how much of a reduced signature will MHPC have? Or is the plan to be miles away from any potential mine threat? Is so how will that work, it seems a tad unrealistic to me as we are talking tens if not not hundreds of square miles of ocean even in the littorals? If this is to be an entirely maritime based capability I would hope that we are looking at something like at least 4 SRMH replacement systems per bespoke mother ship. And what would that ship look like? I would hazard a guess to say that you wouldn't start with an OPV as basis for it, it would probably look more like an OSV. Where is the overlap there then in ship design? That is isn't even without considering hydrography.

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    8. There is a bit more to hydrography than a couple of matelots in a whaler and a line. Scott isn't 14,000 tons because the RN was being profligate. The Echos aren't just 3,500 tons so sailors don't have to be crammed three dozen to a messdeck. All these ships use large sonar arrays that have to be used with great precision so the charts they produce don't lead to SSN commanders taking their £1bn vessels and priceless crews into an undersea mountain. I don't care how much electronics shrink things the sea is still the sea, it still takes so much power to produce a signal to penetrate so much water in a wide enough beam so the job doesn't an eternity. How are you going to reconcile the large working deck needed to launch you unmanned robot mine hunters and the need to put precision equipment at the centre of the hull (where it moves the least)? What about endurance? What about the need to deal with extreme sea statesHow do you reconcile different hull requirements? Yes I can see a hydrographic vessel and a MCM mothership have a need for say azimuth thrusters but what about an OPV? The latter are supposed to be cheap ships?

      Where MHPC surprisingly falls down is providing a cost effective OPV. Around the UK we need a deep V hull. And we need to maintain good speed relative to trawlers; one of the blessings the Rivers' bring is good speed of 20kts. Do we really want to furnish the OPV with something as complex as azimuth thrusters? What about all the empty hull volume left over from not fitting large hydrographic sonars or having to work stuff off the quarterdeck? Not saying it won't work. But it seems if with steel and air being so cheap a waste when we could just design or buy a design for an OPV. How many of these MHPC do we produce? 12? 16? 20? How many sets of equipment? What about the build cycles for all this? In many ways MHPC appears to be the perfect defence project as its answers everything in none to precise way and gives lots of margins to be cut because modularity will mean we don't need as many platforms. The trouble is at see the platform is everything. It is the fundamental. A hull can only be in one place at one time. And though ships have utility the ships that work the best are built for single purposes. The stupid thing is it isn't providing a suitable hull, the area where they want to make savings, for a task that is the costly part but providing the specialised capability.

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  11. Mr Anonymous. Far from a red herring. If you look at the nations that have significant amphibious forces intended to do more than land troops along their own coasts, you'll find that they pretty much all have carriers or expect to operate in range of their own airfields.

    US? Obviously. France? Bien sur. Spain? Si - although austerity bites. Italy? Si, but again see Spain. Both want air cover. India? Only just developing amphibiosity properly, but most definitely have carriers. Russia? Admittedly only one carrier, but then their amphibs were meant to play in the Baltic and the Black sea under clouds of Warpac air cover. China? Amphibs primarily designed to operate against Taiwan, but funny old thing now developing carriers as they push into South China sea and beyond.

    There are some exceptions I can think of - the Dutch, Aussies and Koreans. The cloggies are part of the UKNL landing force. Without UK contribution, they wouldn't have maintained their marine corps or amphibs. The Koreans have amphibs to allow flanking of Little Kims starving army. The Aussies are the only ones where no sea-based air cover is apparent, but then it's not like they're planning to operate outside the Coral sea without US support.

    And of all the above, only the US, UK and possibly France have a real solid stores afloat support capability, as opposed to very small AORs.

    Amphibs are all about projecting power, which you can't do without carriers. Stores ships are primarily to allow you to do that at long distance and for a sustained period. Escorts are slighly different, in that they can be used defensively against peer navies or to escort merchant traffic against discrete threats. However, that requirement does not really exist for the UK, although it can be done, purely because the escorts exist to provide the wider power projection function.

    So, remind me again what the role of the RN would be without carriers?

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    1. With or without CVF the RN would still need to be capable of maintaining an international footprint, defending the UK's global interests, making a major contributing to joint operations, etc. The idea that, without carriers, we would end up with a few SSKs and MHPCs says more about your "carriers at any price" approach than any conceivable reality.

      Most of the nations you mention are part-time carrier navies at best, and the limited capability the UK is getting with CVF/F35B would in any case be inadequate to enable fleet air defence/attack/support of ambhibious forces against a capable enemy. In effect, the UK carriers will be able to support US operations and little else. The RN is no longer large enough to support large carriers and the money would have been better spent on protecting and enhancing existing capabilities rather than trying to fulfil a role that is beyond our means.

      I suspect that both carriers will be mothballed/sold/scrapped by about 2040, a future with no flat tops at all being just one of the consequences of one of the biggest procurement mistakes in history.

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    2. "With or without CVF the RN would still need to be capable of maintaining an international footprint, defending the UK's global interests, making a major contributing to joint operations, etc"

      Which I'm afraid demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of how defence policy, roles. commitments and the associated requirements are made. Without the ability to project power you can't "defend UKs global interests" or make "major contributions to joint ops", because you do not have the capabilities required to do so. At which point the "existing capabilities" you refer to become largely irrelevant and a coherent UK defence policy would fall back to that of home and EEZ defence. For which you need SSK, OPV and MCMV and little else.

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  12. I understand the reasons but I do wish a way could have been found to stick with Conventional take off/landing for maximum flexibilty. That would have enabled us to have all future fast jet programs carrier capable. FAA operate the core airwings RAF rotate to keep in practise and can deploy on the carriers when required. It should always have been this way had continuity occurred. Never mind though we have to work with what we have. I see an opportunity there though. MOD/Industry should now be saying OK we now need to become the world pre-eminent VSTOL specialists again (been this way before!) We should be looking at programs to run alongside F35, pilotless etc and beyond. It is a long way down the line, but I can see a time when a lot of people are going to be operating smaller versions of CVF. We should make darn sure that we have an awful lot do sell them when the time comes.

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    1. If there was a jet ready and EMALs could be built faster. Lot's of ifs and dreams

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    2. It is called forward planning and if we were better at it we would have managed to avoid a 10+ year gap in the most important capability we (should) have! I have been through most of my life time seeing some pretty poor decision making on defence (and most especially the RN) in this country and I would like to see that finally put right.

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  13. Have to read Steve's input ( a book!), but NaB left out Brazil, with their 17.000 Marines
    - and they do have a carrier

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    1. Guilty as charged. I'd forgotten that they'd bought two of our LSL and a couple of US fossils.

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  14. Have to agree with a lot of what Steve says, and RE: this one "One of the key reasons behind using amphibious warfare is that it allows states to imply threat and withdraw it without encroaching on another's territory. For that threat to be credible the LF needs to be kept at peak. There is only so long this can be done. "
    - the Italians designed their only expeditionary ship in such a way that a force of 600 can be maintained, in comfort, for 6 months

    Again in agreement, the MHPC has a perfect "get out of jail" card:
    - we haven't been told yet whether it is a programme or a hull design (or both)

    Cheers, ACC

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    1. I rambled on about MHPC because it is hard to describe something so ill defined in non-technical language and convey how flawed the idea appears to be.

      You could design a MC mothership with davits fore and aft for 4 robotic mine hunters, bridge and accommodation amidships, and use that as a starting design for an Echo replacement. But I think it would come in at about 5000 tons. How many would we buy to replace 2 Echos (and Scott) and all the SRMH's and MCMV's?

      As for the OPV my point about thrusters was that replacing the latter with shaft driven propellers would mean reworking the hull and so more cost. Any additional cost, however small, detracts from the original concept of cost saving through commonality.

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    2. Replacing HMS Scott with a 3-5,000 vessel is not the way to go. There is a reason why Scott is the size she is.

      Agree with the multi-purpose ship approach though. Would be great if the davits could also manage something like the CB90 also. Would be a great Litterol control ship.

      I'd personally like to see if these mulri-role ships could have some amphibious capability like the Absalon class also. The ability to accommodate a company of RMs with kit would be a powerful addition.

      In terms of numbers I'd argue for atleast a one to one replacement for the MCMs, OPVs and Echoes.

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  15. The PAC hearing yesterday was relevant

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  17. The suggestion of using a CVF in an amphibious force role seems to ignore the sheer size of the ships.
    For years, dredging work has been taking place in and around Portsmouth just to get them in - a task which won't stop when the ships are delivered.
    Bear in mind they can't even enter Devonport and the idea they can be used as a useful offshore force becomes optomistic to say the least.
    CVF is an ocean, not a coastal asset.

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