Thursday, 1 August 2013

Another Daring Deployment?


 The Royal Navy Type 45 destroyer, HMS DARING, is currently entering waters not sailed in by the RN for many years. On a global deployment, she has recently visited Pearl Harbour, and is currently engaged on a high profile tour of the Asia Pacific region. This deployment marks the first time in many years that an RN vessel has visited Pearl Harbour, and the first in about 4-5 years that a major platform will have deployed into the Asia Pacific region.

It’s a good news story in many ways – for the RN, a chance to deploy one of their premier assets into a rarely visited region represents a good opportunity to work with old friends and new allies, and demonstrate the exceptionally capable Type 45 to a variety of nations. In particular, it sends a useful reminder to the US that even with the Pacific reorientation, the RN is still capable of deploying to the region and providing a meaningful presence.

It is also perhaps a sign of the times that she has deployed without a support tanker – unlike previous RN global deployments, this time DARING is utterly reliant on shore support for the duration of the deployment. This perhaps highlights just how stretched the RFA tanker fleet has become, with just two modern and three positively ancient tankers left in service, down from nine only a few years previously. This is perhaps less welcome, and means that while DARING remains an extremely capable platform, her reach is perhaps more constrained than previous RN deployments into the area.

The deployment is a useful reminder that despite the UK placing a very heavy emphasis on deploying elsewhere in the world, there is still a UK interest in the Asia Pacific region. While the days of a Far East Fleet are long gone, it is clear that the RN is held in a high level of regard, and that many navies are keen to operate and benefit from RN training and experience. Coming at a time when the UK defence links to both Japan and Korea are positively booming, if DARING were to visit either country then it would be a good chance to highlight this growing relationship. In Korea, the UK has ordered four MARS tankers, which are due to enter service over the next few years, while the Koreans have become the first export customer for the Lynx Wildcat.
Type 45 Destroyer at Sea

 At the same time, UK and Japanese defence relationships have improved significantly as Japan takes on a more prominent role in the region and beyond. It is fair to say that this deployment provides a chance to deepen ties such as this, even if it is unlikely to be a regular occurrence (indeed just this week the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force visited HMNB Portsmouth for a training deployment). With the Japanese military growing in stature and prestige internally, and coupled with an increase in interest in acquiring capabilities that the UK has long experience in (for instance Marines and UAVs), the possibility exists for significantly improved co-operation over the next few years.

While it is easy to scoff at the value of such short exercises and visits, Humphrey places a real value on them. All bilateral relationships need to begin somewhere, and working at sea provides a real indicator of the level of capability a nation can bring to a multi-national operation. By helping foster closer relationships, identifying training needs, equipment gaps and where procedures can be improved, this sort of exercise helps smooth out the bugs ahead of possibly deploying together elsewhere. For instance, many navies in the Asia Pacific region are taking an increased interest in the anti-piracy role, and some have deployed to the Horn of Africa region. By building gentle relationships in home waters, it is much easier to build strong operational relationships when deployed abroad together. So, to the author, this sort of deployment is of real long term benefit to the UK – anything which helps ease the multi-national burden on operations, and helps improve the operational effectiveness on deployments is to be welcomed.

It was telling though that while this deployment continues, news has broken at home that the RN is no longer contributing an escort to the NATO standing task forces. Only a few years ago such a move would have been an unthinkable show of Alliance disunity, as one of its leading members failed to provide a visible contribution to the force (previously known as STANAVFORLANT/MED). Today though, NATO is an important security tool, but perhaps occupies a less pressing priority for defence planners. While it is easy to attack the RN for a lack of influence (as indeed some papers have done), the reality is that most nations in NATO have significantly reduced their permanent contributions to NATO forces operating in the European and Atlantic area. It is hard to think of many navies with sufficient hulls to spare to do every job, and the reduction in presence of hulls shows that right now this is seen as a lower priority than other duties. Although a shame to not have an RN presence, it is perhaps more important to note that the RN retains ‘ownership’ of the key NATO maritime headquarters at Northwood, where many of these operations are planned and co-ordinated from. Is it better to have an asset in the force, or run the force HQ? Humphrey would argue that even if the UK is not actively participating in such forces right now, it remains engaged in different ways which are equally, if not more, important.

The other factor to consider is that while the RN may not be working with NATO in the European area, it remains heavily operationally committed to duties such as ATALANTA in the Horn of Africa. Again, the question becomes one of where is it better to allocate scarce resources – on essentially training duties in home waters, or operationally focused duties overseas? There are similar training benefits from working in a complex multi-national environment, and this is the sort of operation at which the RN excels. No one would argue that it is better now than it was when sufficient hulls existed to meet wider commitments – but on balance, the decision to support operations like ATALANTA over things like NATO standing forces is arguably a much better use of increasingly scarce RN platforms. The other point to remember is that all of these commitments which have been dropped can be picked up again if circumstances change.


So, perhaps what we should see from the deployment of DARING is a wider picture – one which firstly shows how the UK is changing its security priorities and choosing to prioritise its interests and assets in regions beyond NATO, which is a step change from the end of the Cold War. At the same time it shows just how busy the escort fleet actually is at the moment – DARING was deployed on a major deployment out to the Arabian Gulf in early 2012 – the fact that by mid 2013 she is deployed again highlights the ever busier tempo that these escorts are working to. This is all well and good with a new class of young ships, but one must ask whether it will be sustainable in the medium term as they age and require more refits and maintenance (as all ships do). The question is perhaps, to what extent is the UK placing risk on long term force generation in order to meet short term task requirements? 

18 comments:

  1. Excellent article. Official MOD news has not touched on this--wonder why. The news was that HMS Daring was sailing to the FPDA region for a traditional exercise. No one expected it to sail west--I didn't until I read the British Ambassador to Panama's tweet, then tweets from US Navy San Diego and then Navy Region Hawaii (twitter plus facebook. The power of social media!!!)

    Another point to touch on is that Daring is praticising with AEGIS destroyers, very likely on Anti-ballistic missile stuff. Aster 30 is suppose to be able to shot down ballistic missiles, but there's no news of live firing yet. (Again, just have to watch the US Navy social media sites. Or webpage.)

    You are right about it sailing without RFA support (then again, RN ships usually sail alone, esp those to the South Atlantic.) As my twitter following has indicated, it's docked at Panama (canal), San Diego, and now JB Pearl Harbor-Hickam. Can easily sock at so many US-related ports in the Pacific plus thne Sydney (fleet review) and Singapore.

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  2. On not contributing to NATO, I slightly disagree, it's a sham. Technically no, the French Navy is still strong and the French are more forward deployed than the RN is on a regular basis. With the 2 (or 1) QEs entering, yes I guess NATO is secondary to UK interests.

    Still, as you noted, the Pacific deployment is something rare and I hope they try it often, esp now that the Afghanistan campaign is drawing down. The US should not monopolise the Pacific

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  3. Sir H, the UK does still contribute to the Standing NATO MCM Group 2 (STANAVFORMED in old money). The commitment is just as important as the FF/DD groups particularly with the current pull on MCM

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    1. Good point - I forgot to mention that this still stood. I suspect that the challenge is with only 15 hulls, and four permanently on task in Bahrain, generating extra commitments can be quite challenging.

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  4. This is hardly a 'meaningful' IMO. It is a classic, worthwhile "flag-waving" and with commercial interests to the fore.

    I think the USA and the USN are very well aware how limited the RN is today. In their calculations I doubt a RN destroyer actually fits. In the case of hostilities it is utterly dependent on USN logistic support, or other friends. Where is the ammunition re-supply? To my knowledge the main gun is not in the USN armoury. They might have some spare GPMG ammunition!

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  5. The current deficiency in RFA tanker support would be easily rectifiable by procuring an extra couple of MARS tankers which should turn out to be great value for money.

    The withdrawal of RN ships from NATO standing groups isn't exactly new news, it's what you have to expect when the RN's surface fleet is cut to the bone. You could also argue that it's an overdue re-positioning of assets onto more East of Suez deployments in a post Cold War context. Plus it's not as if the UK doesn't still make other important contributions to NATO or that escort surface ships aren't in relative abundance across the wider alliance.

    It's good to see Daring making a rare RN foray into the Pacific. I'm all for these kinds of training and friendship building deployments...so long as the ship in question isn't taken from another primary standing deployment.

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  6. Challenger and davidbfpo, this is meaningful enough. There's no magical defence budget (even if you reduce the spending or remove other government ministries) in the real world. Defence spending is not just a political action bue due to external economic conditions. Have you looked at recruitment levels lately? It's nice to have many ships, but who is going to man them? Perhaps you should bring back conscription then.

    And besides, the UK is not the only NATO country reducing his armed forces.

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    1. I actually said I was pleased to see Daring deploy to the Pacific.

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  7. you can have one deathstar, but it can only obliterate one star system at a time.
    erm.

    what i mean is that having the (ahem) "best anti-aircraft destroyer in the world" is great, but not if the numbers are so small they can't actually be where they are needed. same with the frigate numbers, and submarines. the 1998-ish defence review remains, in my mind, about correct - roughly 30 escorts and 10 attack subs. plus all the carrier and amphib stuff. cut the overseas aid budget to pay for it - the rn and rfa do plenty of aid / humanitarian work to justify this. see - i'm not even saying cut benefits or civil service jobs to do this! :-)

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  8. I broadly agree that Daring's deployment to the Pacific is good news. Maintaining bilateral relationships and just 'having a presence' is beneficial for the UK in diplomatic and prestige terms. Working in different environments with other navies is also valuable experience for the RN personnel involved. There maybe a commercial dimension to the deployment but lets not be cynical about it - the Type 45 is an impressive piece of mostly British-made kit (although ludicrously expensive).

    Most Pacific nations will be savvy enough to realise that the UK is unlikely to be able to contribute significant forces to the region in the event of a major conflict but occasionally seeing the white ensign demonstrates we still care, are still interested and will provide moral support, if not much physical support to our key natural allies - Australia, Japan and the US.

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    1. Thanks for that - I think the value of the UK presence is that in a region dominated by the USN as the premier navy, many nation operating US derived kit with the expectation of working with them for real may be concious that in any shooting match, they will be quite a long way down the supply chain priority. Perhaps sourcing non US kit is not always a bad idea.
      My instinct for the region is that you will see very little engagement beyond FPDA / Brunei, with the UK seeing the Gulf / HOA as its centre of gravity for future deployments.

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    2. It will be interesting to know if UK logistics base in Singapore is contributing to the US pivot to the East. Especially since hardly any UK Warships have visited Singapore in the last decade,

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  9. And why must there be a fantasy fleet every where Navy look out? You want to cut the budget of other arms services and ministries that help in defence too. Again, get eery male and female into conscription first. then you can have your magical navy.

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. Eh Jeneral28?? Don't know who you are but you badly misrepresent me. I have suggested the RN should be prioritised at RAF expense in some areas but I do not advocate cutting other services budgets, rather like most defence bloggers, that defence spending in general should be raised. I have been very careful NOT to play 'fantasy fleets' other than quite reasonably proposing the RN should be expanded. I don't even understand absurd comment about conscription...

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    3. You have the stupidest ideas ever.

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  10. "In particular, it sends a useful reminder to the US that even with the Pacific reorientation, the RN is still capable of deploying to the region and providing a meaningful presence."

    Um, no. I doubt the USN (or any major Pacific nation) is impressed with the RN's ability to deploy a single destroyer. Are you even aware of the size and capabilities of the U.S. Pacific Fleet?

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