A key role for any first rate military force is anti-submarine warfare, this is especially true for an island nation.
As the submarine represents one of the most severe threats to any nation with a coastline, to any navy or anyone that relies on seafaring trade; so it is of the utmost importance to have first rate ASW capabilities.
For the UK these capabilities are currently operated by the Royal Navy in the form of Frigates, currently the Type 23 and soon to be Type 26, and that of our own submarine fleet.
Though in the coming years the RAF will once again be joining the ASW force when they have their state-of-the-art Poseidon P-8s are delivered. Yet all of these come at a huge cost: £1bn per Astute class submarine, £2.2bn for 9 P-8s and £750m per Type 26 frigate of which we will get 8.
So why are we spending all this money on vessels and aircraft that essentially serve the same role? To answer this we first need to understand the threat of the submarine.
For the UK the obvious example is the Battle of the Atlantic where German U-Boats were sinking the shipping that kept citizens alive and eating. Now the submarines are even more dangerous and deadly, many of them nuclear powered so they could remain submerged for months on end, some of them armed with nuclear weapons but all are armed with torpedoes.
Torpedoes that are designed to explode underneath a ship, creating a gas bubble to break the ship’s keel (its back) which no ship could survive. Even the toughest of ships, aircraft carriers are not immune to this so civilian shipping would be extremely vulnerable.
So you can see why this is a threat that governments have to treat with the utmost seriousness and why so many resources need to be dedicated to ASW. As today submarines are quieter and quieter, with sound absorbing hulls and materials, machinery fitted on shock absorbers to minimise noise and nuclear reactors to stop the need for regular surfacing.
Making them harder and harder to track and we are having to track more and more submarines so it is no wonder why money is spent in the billions for ASW. It is always said that the best counter for a submarine is another submarine and while out Astutes are second to none; the submarine fleet however is a shadow of its former glory with only 7 attack submarines in service.
But these field some of the best sonar arrays in the world and are extremely silent themselves making them of the best in the constant game of submarine cat and mouse. The frigates represent close protection for the fleet and carrier groups being a specialised platform for ASW with high end sonar equipment and tower sonar arrays to detect and track any submarine approaching herself or the carriers.
The maritime patrol aircraft when they come back into UK service will enhance these abilities, we will be able to deter hostile submarines in our waters, track submarines in our areas of interest, protect our nuclear deterrent and if need be attack enemy submarines. A combination of arms that will allow for true protection of our naval assets even if it is not true protection in our waters.
As now we can have P-8 detect hostile submarines before they are too near a carrier group, a frigate then acquire and hold the contact as it nears the fleet and a friendly submarine intercept and if need be attack.
Yet the question still arises if this is enough, after all we will never have all 7 submarines at sea, 9 aircraft can never patrol all of our waters, 8 frigates can’t trawl all the depths.
However, there is no obvious answer to this as we could buy many more submarines but at point what do we have enough, a 1:1 balance, a higher balance or lower. Though as good as any of our equipment is to subsidise having fewer, they can’t be in two places at once.