Friday, 10 August 2012

A Daring Deployment - Thoughts on the Type 45 on operations

The MOD announced last week that HMS DARING has returned from her maiden deployment to the Middle East. This highly successful trip allowed the RN to deploy her via the Med, through Suez, and then conduct operations with the US and other coalition partners in the Arabian Gulf. She then conducted wider operations, including a trip to India to demonstrate the vessel to the Indian Navy.

The deployment is good news for several reasons. Firstly, it marks the return of a UK high end AAW capability in the Gulf region. The UK hasn’t sent T42s up in to that area for several years, so it is a significant enhancement to both UK capabilities, and also regional security that the DARING was able to deploy there. It will have been seen as a clear sign by allied nations in the region that the UK is prepared to deploy its most potent military equipment in support of the region.

The deployment provided an excellent chance for the RN to demonstrate to the USN, and other premier naval powers, just how potent the T45 capabilities are. Working as part of a CVBG, the DARING was able to show the potential of the SAMPSON/PAAMS combination, and initial feedback suggests that the USN was impressed by what it saw.

Additionally, the deployment was an excellent opportunity to show off the T45 to a range of nations, both as an influence tool – by demonstrating the potency of the vessel, and UK abilities, but also as a sales device. The visits to nations such as India were an opportunity to provide emerging maritime powers with the chance to see a T45 close up, and get a better indication of how the UK is bringing its future fleet into service. It provides the chance to work with them, and get an idea of their ability to exercise with the UK, which in turn gives an idea of the ability to operate alongside us on operations. Visits like this are immensely important, as they lay the groundwork for future exercise programmes and co-operation.

The RN has spent a long time cultivating its links with the Indian Navy, as seen by the regular series of ‘Konkan’ exercises, which have included naval aviation, SSNs, and high end escorts working together. The visit by DARING continues the trend of providing visible access to the newest and highest quality vessels in the RN fleet. So, from an influence perspective, this deployment has been successful – there is immense interest in the T45 by many nations, so to see one deployed, working and operating in a highly challenging environment such as the Gulf is a major event.

More broadly, the deployment has been a chance to showcase the next generation of RN vessels – there is considerable interest in the T26 design, and its likely that many nations will have taken a close interest in the design, capability and role of DARING as she was deployed. This was a chance to try to increase polite expressions of interest, and in turn, turn it into more tangible financial or other commitments to the T26 project.

The broader signal though, and one that should not be missed, is the fact that DARING was relieved by another T45. It now appears that the RN will be committing a pair of vessels to the Arabian Gulf region until further notice – both a T45, and also a T23. This, coupled with the wider RFA, SSN and MCMV presence means that at any one time, the RN has got potentially a dozen ships in the Arabian Gulf. This hugely capable force is able to respond to the majority of challenges posed in the region, and represents a very potent fleet, with capabilities far beyond most regional navies.

While it is customary to decry the RN as a dying beast, Humphrey would suggest that very few navies can permanently sustain a dozen warships, a few thousand miles from home, on a permanent basis, and still deploy on other operations. Even while the RN is busy in the Arabian Gulf, there are still several warships in the South Atlantic, Caribbean and home waters on live tasking. When one looks at lists of world navies, outside of the USN, it is hard to find any other navy capable of sustaining a balanced force in one geographic area well removed from its home base. Don’t forget that the RN remains an immensely capable force, even if it is smaller than before.

Another key point is the arrival of the T45 as a deployable platform. While the T42s have performed sterling work for many years, they have been past their prime. The fact that two T45s are on deployment, is a sign that the RN is once again able to put high end AAW vessels out on global patrol, and employ them in a high threat environment. In addition to being able to do ASW in the gulf, the RN is now again able to contribute to the AAW battle. This significant uplift in capability will be appreciated by partners, and makes a real difference. It has taken many years to get here, but the RN is finally able to put T45s on to the most challenging operational deployments.

This does come at a cost though – the sight of two 45s on deployment, one returning and the other two still on trials shows that this small fleet of hulls will be worked hard in their lives. The indicator as to how often they’ll be deployed will be when we see where HMS DARING deploys to next. It looks likely that with only 6 hulls, the T45 fleet will be most likely committed to an East of Suez task, and also another task – possibly the ‘Southlant’ task, which now encompasses Africa, Falklands and the West Indies.

The T45 hulls, once they settle into a fully in service programme, will essentially be able to support two, gusting three, tasks at a time. It is worth considering that with an available fleet of five hulls (essentially 2 deployed, 1-2 working up, 1-2 returning/maintenance, 1 deep refit), the RN is going to have to prioritise how it deploys the T45. The RN is unlikely to see much of the much vaunted ‘Carrier Battle Groups’ so desired by internet discussion boards. At best some joint training may be accomplished over the next few years by hulls on work up, but in order to maintain a fairly punishing cycle of one hull East of Suez, and one hull likely to be deployed either on wider task group operations or into the South Atlantic, the RN is unlikely to have capacity to do much more with the T45. The sight of an RN task group, with integral carrier, T45 and T23 frigate is likely to be a rarity – more likely is that a T45 hull will be assigned to the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) and then sent off on a pre-determined task, only coming together for wider out of area deployments for short periods. The chances of having spare hulls to do the sort of ‘Orient Express’, ‘Ocean Wave’ or ‘Taurus 09’ deployments, while still maintaining commitments are near zero. This sort of commitment will come at the price of either gapping tasks, or only token participation.

So, the reality is that the RN has acquired a world class AAW capability and brought it into service with genuinely excellent equipment. The hulls will be worked hard, and as can be seen, it will probably be a case of ‘one in, one out’ at Portsmouth Dockyard with the vessels employed on singleton detachments, or in the case of the Arabian Gulf, employed alongside coalition assets, or occasionally working with RN units.

The loss of the extra hulls originally planned (first 12, then 8) will be keenly felt. Although one could argue that the RN has struggled to generate many T42s for several years now, the fact remains that T45s will be expected to work hard from the start, and that in years to come may start to struggle as their maintenance needs increase. The other challenge will be to using the vessels without the CEC upgrade which has not officially been cancelled, it merely hasn’t been prioritised as a spending need in the current planning round. CEC would have gone a long way to mitigating the reduction of hulls in terms of task group operations, and the RN is likely to regret not having full access to it for some time.

In summary then, its great news for the RN that the T45 is operational, and that the vessels are now integrated into the RN deployment cycle. They represent a step change in capability compared to their predecessors. The challenge comes from the reality that these ships will be worked hard, and will not exist in sufficient numbers to participate in the wider discretionary tasks that more numbers of T42s enabled. The RN will continue to have a world class AAW fleet, but it will probably be operated as a fleet of singletons, and not as a fleet of vessels integrated into wider RN task groups.


  1. hopefully they will realise that the fleet is overworked and order 2 more T45's. However that would have to be done fast before the production winds up and that's about as likely in this economy as an order for a battleship. it's like in 1908 with dreadnoughts and the navy league's 'we want 8 and we won't wait' slogan However they got 8 but we will not.

    1. There is zero chance of any additional T45s being built.

  2. Hello Sir Humphrey

    I liked your article just have a few comments would appreciate any feedback from you and what you think.

    I think some mistakes were made with the type 45 such as not having the ability to launch tomahawk cruise missiles, hopefully this will be added in due time and of course the 4.5 inch gun. I agree that CEC does need to be put aboard the vessels. Though i also think it would have been so more economical to build at least 2 more hulls. I know the ship is expensive, but most of the money is spent in the national economy so a reasonable proportion gets back to the treasury. I personally feel that defence of the nation is the primary role of the government, and one of the best things for public money to be spent on, but not wasted.

    I am not sure if this is correct, but i have read that the construction cost of the last ship to roll off the dock was only ~£650m. So 2 more would bring the cost of the total project to a much more reasonable level, per ship. Also having extra hulls as you hinted at would mean less work having to be done by each hull, ceteris paribus, meaning less spent on maintenance. I have never liked the attitude of spending money to keep a piece of equipment going that while be able to perform the task required.


    1. mick,

      I understood that some of the T23 launchers will be cross-fitted when they bow out?
      Part of the fitted-for-but not with mantra?

    2. Mick
      Thanks for your comment. With the T45, the question is what benefit is gained from having them as TLAM shooterers? It takes them off the AAW role, and puts them into a wider role.
      The problem with adding the extra 2 hulls now is that the costs would be immense, and the manning issues substantial. It isn't a question of saying 'heres £1.2 billion, build 2 ships' - I'll do a piece soon on why it is so difficult to do this.

    3. @mike

      Launchers for type 23? The sea wolf on the type 23 is woeful in comparison to the aster that the type 45 carries. Though potential adding the harpoon missiles is a a possibility but not a necessity.

      @Sir Humphrey

      As has been shown in recent events, Libya etc TLAM has proven to be a very effective weapon. It provides a capability for deep strike missions against a wide range of targets.

      Though the Astute's have the ability to use these weapons, by doing so it compromises their ability to do other missions. This then raises the question in what other vessel would you want this capability.

      I think the type 45 is the ship for the job. While I agree the main role of the Type 45 must be AAW, I don't see how adding TLAM reduces the effectiveness of the type 45 in this role. While more Aster missiles could be carried in the extra VLS, it is already deemed that 48 is enough. There is already the space provided for the VLS tubes to house the weapon. By adding this capability to the type 45, not only does it cover a large area from aerial attack it threatens to be able to strike at targets deep within a country.

      I think there needs to be a balancing act between, how many ships you need to meet your strategic aims, how many ships you need to build to maintain the skills base, and how many ships our needed to achieve a reasonable cost per vessel. I don't think that 6 type 45s meet any of the above points. Though I understand the difficulties of building two more ships and why its not plausible given current circumstances.

      However if proper thought was given about our strategic interests, and long term planning and funding was made available to meet these, we could achieve significantly more with only modest increases in funds. I am a stout believer of deciding what our strategic interests are, how best to achieve these and then allocating the money to get the correct and right amount of equipment/personnel needed.

      I look forward to your next piece.


  3. "that in years to come may start to struggle as their maintenance needs increase"

    Indeed, apart from the teething issues new types have, the hard work will bring more maintenance issues at home and abroad, I already know a herc lad who have flown a '45 spare parts mission (nothing abnormal about that, was very common when I was on hercs).

    But would you want 8 if that reduces the frigate number?

    A rough comparison of T45 hulls to the Dreadnoughts' is... not right imo.

    1. I'm not comparing the two in terms of performance or capability. i'm just drawing a vague parallel between the political situations at the time.Also in terms of the number of frigates This would coencide with a reduction in the 'sharp end' of the RAF as I think the RN is just more useful. (Also the T45 is just Beautiful).

    2. No, I'm sorry but you have to be realistic, out of the RN's budget.

      You cant just 'take' and not give in return, by your resoning there should be more Frigates than T45's because they are more useful numerically.
      It has to be balanced, otherwise force balance across the forces is lost.

      If the RAF's "sharp end" budget is reduced then the savings should (and would, as your suggesting a massive shake down on structure and culture) go into the other core areas of the RAF's ISTAR and transport/battlefield transport... which are more useful to the wider HM Forces.

      I reckon this wont chime well to the Navy centric minds... but what we have now is more a case of take it or leave it (much like Voyager). Here's hoping post '15 the funds, or even just a small chunk of, used to maintain operations can be placed into the services budget, its here that maybe in the future an extra couple of hulls may be found (that or a country chooses it for their own navy...). Though I doubt it.

    3. And to just passify the dark blue crowd, I'd argue that barring F35, Sentinel R1, A400, MP replacements (hercs..) and upgrading E3, the RN should get the slighly bigger chunk of any increase - for the reasons SirH shares in the comments.

      But force balance is vital, thats why Labours "22 chinooks" idea was not met with smiles in the military and why Puma will live on - the T45's in a conflict senario will be mostly locked in battlegroup/airspace protection, the bloody lessons from '82 stung deep.
      They are only part of the future structure of the RN, just wait for T26.

  4. Has to be asked, why are we there in the first place?

    To protect other countries oil supplies, if that is the answer. Then those other countries need to chip in for all of this flag waving with hard cash. If a nice fantasy that we still have an empire but the truth is we don't.

    The first an only role of the armed forces is to protect the The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This simple fact is lost of the dreamers at the MOD and FO. It is fun I suppose to go sailing to exotic locations for the crew but it should be seen as the diversion it is.

    Although the Gulf deployments have some value relating to supporting our troops temporarily in the region. Other deployments such as the West Indies are totally unjustified. Unless my geography is wrong are they not quite near Uncle Sam's sphere of influence?

    1. Why are we there?
      Firstly we have strategic interests in the region - natural resources and the like. A vast amount of UK trade passes through the indian ocean and gulf, and the loss of the straits of hormuz would send oil prices skyrocketting and cause an even bigger economic collapse and recession in the UK than currently seen.
      The deployment to the Gulf serves as a symbol of protection for the over 100,000 UK Expatriates who live in the region, and provides a visible symbol for certain nations with ill intent that the region has friends and allies. By providing a visible presence, we not only look after our friends, but also help ensure long term trading and economic links with these nations.
      It is an immensely complex web of relationships in these regions, and military presence is something which opens doors, gains influence and directly supports the UK economy.
      Similarly in the West Indies, we have multiple overseas territories, all of whom require our support and assistance. We also gain from interdicting drugs, and wider work, which strengthens our relationship with the US, and also helps reduce drug trafficking in the UK.
      It is worth noting that a number of European nations maintain similar deployments in the region for the same reasons.

      It is easy to see overseas deployments as flag waving, but the reality is they support our economy, help preserve our influence and ensure that the global strategic balance is aligned in a manner which suits our own interests.

    2. well said Sir Humphrey. Always makes me laugh when people say we don't have an empire any more. They seem to totally forget the fact that we still have 14 overseas territories around the globe, some in strategically very important places. People seem to think "we live on this little island and that's all we need to worry about defending."

  5. This begs the question as to what escorts the carriers will deploy with, does it not?

    1. Depends on what you mean by "deploy". For normal jogging you might see them go out with just a T23 goalkeeping, and other assets "on call" at various levels of notice to move should they be retasked or the situation deteriorate.

      For "the proud parents welcome the birth of a bouncing baby war", then that NTM gets activated and the RFTG forms up with the required assets for the situation, or the group doesn't enter the JOA until all the required assets have arrived.

      Don't forget, also, we're not in this alone. It might have been more PR than requirement that had HMS Manchester as sole escort for the HARRY S TRUMAN in the Arabian Gulf in 2008, but it was done (I know, I was aboard) but it was a good example to maintain; it wouldn't surprise me to see a DDG-51 playing SHOTGUN for a CVF until the designated T45 arrived from whatever other tasking it had been on. If that gets a big flat STOVL/LPH deck and hangar available sooner, our cousins might cover the gap rather than have a useful ship wait for support.

  6. You are looking at the RN through rose-tinted spectacles again. The Navy may be fine as a supporting act to the USN, but as an independent force capable of taking on a serious, well-equipped opponent it is woefully inadequate. All it would take is for a couple of ships to be put out of action, even temporarily, and things could unravel very quickly. The excellent training, support etc. upon which you have commented before cannot compensate for the fact that resources are spread too thinly and we are trying to do too much with too little.

    1. Anonymous - while I appreciate your view, I would turn the question around. Please cite the serious well equipped opponent with whom the UK is likely to find itself in a solo shooting war within the next 2-3 years?

      The reality is that the areas where we anticipate likely operations are those where we work with coalition partners. There are some very, very good navies out there. That does not mean that they are imminently planning to attack a lone RN warship in the manner of a bad Tom Clancy novel.

      While I am inherently sympathetic to the view that we are stretched too thin, the problem I have with the view that we could lose ships quickly is that this nightmare scenario has not ocurred in decades.

      We are also guilty as a nation of regarding success as a bad thing. One of the reasons for starting this blog is because I was fed up with the standard 'everything is shit' approach taken to looking at the RN, while we looked back misty eyed to a past that never really happened. The modern RN is a fantastic organisation which punches above its weight, and which has far more capablity than almost any other nation on the planet. I am utterly fed up of some people doing their damndest to knock the RN, and the work it does. People seem determined to do it down, to do the UK down, and to refuse to accept what an incredibly competent military we possess in the UK.

  7. Calm down dear. I am not "doing my damndest to knock the RN" (in fact I am a dyed in the wool supporter of the Navy), but you invite criticism by constantly presenting advocacy as fact. If the RN is not intended to fight and win at the highest level, then what is the point of our current defence posture (i.e. limited numbers of high-end platforms)? Why are we building T45s, Astutes, etc. if, as you seem to be suggesting, we could not lose ships to an opponent? If this is the case, then surely cheap patrol frigates and corvettes would do? Your argument is completely self-defeating.

    Just because we have not lost ships in decades does not mean that it could not happen again. Was the Falklands conflict and the serious losses incurred predicted? Thought not. The whole point of defence is to protect against the unexpected, including serious threats to national security. We cannot just assume that future operations will be cosy multilateral affairs against weak, unsophisticated opposition (e.g. Libya). Unfortunately, you seem to regard any comment with which you do not agree as a direct attack on the RN as an institution (the "everything is shit" comment). Maybe, among all the "shit", there are some grains of truth.

    1. Hi Anonymous - you seem to have misread my comments. I am not for one moment suggesting we cannot lose a ship. There are certain capabilites and platforms in existence that on paper at least present a very interesting challenge to opponents.
      If you reread what I said, my view is simple. There are nations out there in possession of very good navies which if turned against the UK would pose a challenge to us. BUT the challenge is finding any reason for any of these nations to want to engage in a serious shooting war in isolation with the UK. As I noted, we anticipate coalition operations being the future, and that remains a near certainty.
      While I would not rule out the possibility of the UK engaging in solo operations, I would rate it as exceptionally unlikely. What matters to the UK is the ability to present a first rate navy which is sufficiently capable so as to deter potential opponents, or to cause nations intent on causing mischief in some areas to consider whether it may be in their best interest to do so. Much of what the RN does best is often training, coalition work and capacity building, to ensure that our regional partners are at a good level of capability - do that well and we never even need to consider getting kinetic.
      While it is possible we could find ourselves in a solo shooting war, the problem is that everytime this subject is debated on the internet, no one seems to have a credible nation in mind which in the near future can pose, and would wish to pose, a genuine military threat to the UK. Beyond wishlisting argentina, I genuinely cannot think of a nation which poses a direct threat to us as a nation alone. Perhaps you would care to name one?

    2. Sir Humphrey, I don't really think that you are clear in your own mind about what either of us are saying. To be a credible force the RN MUST be able to deal with a capable enemy, and it is evident that the Navy of today simply does not have the resources to be able to maintain sustained operations against such an opponent. Without the USN to do the heavy lifting the RN would very quickly run into serious difficulties (my original point), and there is nothing in your replies which convinces me otherwise.

      Conflict rarely takes the expected form, and we cannot just assume that in future years the US will be there to hold our hand every step of the way. Most of our European allies have only modest capabilities and limited operational experience, so a joint European force without the USN would mean the RN taking a leading role. As I have already pointed out, it is clear to me that the Navy is ill-equipped to carry out this role.

  8. Hello Sir H - just found your site, got to know of you via your East of Suez posts over on Think Defence.

    Your "Why are we there" reply above is as well thought out and presented a defence of why the RN does what it does as I have seen. Nice one. I would however argue that some of what the RN does ought not to be paid for out of the UK defence budget. For example, how is training/helping another nation to deal with pirates in their own waters not classed as Foreign Aid, rather than strictly Defence work? The humanitarian relief work carried out by RN - is it cold-hearted of me to expect some remuneration for this, perhaps from the UN or regional organisations? Could the Caribbean nations not collectively chip-in to meet the costs of maintaining a foreign warship in their waters?

    1. Was my point in the original post about why are we there. It is flag waving and no amount of rhetoric about protecting British trade will wash.

      The oil trade in the Gulf region is not a British matter. Let those countries who are supplied do the protecting. Why us?

      One new warship to cover how many square miles of ocean?

      Are we just on hire for the rest of the world? If so, as I stated, let's see the cash for our services.

      As for the end bits of Empire argument, I don't buy it. THe FO did it's best to get rid of the Falklands and deny the islander's a British passport. That bit of treachery should never be forgotten.

      The Caribbean is under threat from who exactly? It is a nice retirement area for the great and the good of the British Establishment for sure but hardly a front line needing the precious few high end weapons we still have. Although Belize was a post Falklands issue that was taken seriously. Most of the rest is US bases such as Ascension.

      Having 6 T45 ships would mean only 2 are actually on station at any give time. The is the reality for the next 20 odd years at least. We really can't pretend we are a mini US any more. The forces should not be about pleasure cruises, I'd rather see a T45 and a couple of T23/26 permanently based in the Falklands, where there is a real threat that we have the resources to deal with.

      Maybe not a popular posting, I'll admit but a realistic one. Also if the economic argument rears it's head - the potential wealth of the Falkland area and Antarctica is considerably more than Asian oil tankers in the Gulf.

    2. "The oil trade in the Gulf region is not a British matter. Let those countries who are supplied do the protecting. Why us?"

      But we are among those supplied by the Gulf oil trade! If it was disrupted, the damage to our economy would be enormous.

    3. Really? Though we had North Sea oil.

      As I understand it, most of the oil is going to Asian countries or other West European lands.

      My point is why should we be protecting someone else's trade?

    4. We are an island nation. 99% of our trade comes via the high seas. A single container ship today carries the equivalent of a WW2 convoy of goods.
      We could ignore the sea, we could ignore global choke points, but if we lost control or influence on them, then when these choke points are mined, closed or otherwise denied, then politicans will have a lot of explaining to do about the near complete collapse of the UK economy and way of life.

  9. Could you expand on the USN reaction please?

    1. Hi chris - everything I've heard has been positive, with the T45 favourably compared to Aegis equipped vessels.

      Its interesting to note that two T45s in a row have been integrated into a US CVBG in the Gulf now, with more to occur in future. (Check out the RN website today).

  10. Well of course the USN might just be being diplomatic. Can't see them being overly impressed with the lack of CEC on T45. Or its very limited capabilities beyond AAW.

  11. Hi Sir,
    I loved reading this piece! Well written!

    Merlen Hogg

  12. Well obviously the USN may simply be being political. Can't see them being excessively awed with the absence of CEC on T45. Alternately its extremely restricted abilities past AAW.

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