Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach warned that overall British anti-submarine capability has been serious neglected due to under funding.

Peach told the Royal United Services Institute:

“We can do some things about it, but not enough because our anti-submarine warfare capability has been seriously neglected. The anti-submarine warfare package has been underfunded and has not been looked after well enough.

In response to the threat posed by the modernisation of the Russian navy – both nuclear and conventional submarines and ships – the UK and other Atlantic Nato allies have had to prioritise missions and tasks in order to protect the sea lines of communication. In addition to new ships and submarines, Russia continues to perfect unconventional capabilities and information warfare.

Therefore, we must continue to develop our maritime forces with our allies to match Russian fleet modernisation.”

The UK has not operated maritime patrol aircraft since 2010 though is introducing P-8 aircraft over the coming years, while frigate and submarine numbers have dropped by a great deal since the end of the Cold War.

48 COMMENTS

  1. All of Britians war fighting capacity has been neglected. Where world leaders in humanitrian support, world policing and counter insurgency. But can barely pot together a resonble war fighting force.

  2. Two reasons for this, not enough money spent on defence and secondly the money that was available was spent very badly over the past two decades.

    It’s all well good throwing lots of money at big shiny expensive projects so that you can boast about being in the premier league, but if you neglect you priority core capabilities the military is just a hollow shell unfit and unable for war fighting

    • Agreed Mike,

      Lack of governance and we also seem to have lost the ability to do things economically (why create a £1m pen for space when a pencil will do).

      Things are so bad that actually there is a really good opportunity for British industry to step in and for the armed forces to re-organise. Asymmetric warfare is what we need to be getting into with smaller more flexible asssets in larger volumes, that way we can lose some but still achieve our objectives and overcome.

      Fortunately this is relatively cheap to do and whilst we will still need the high end assets, I do believe it is time for a force rebalancing in line with our revised post Brexit strategy/status.

      All 4 arms need funded properly (Cyber being the 4th service in my view) and we need to cut older equipment that is expensive to maintain in preference for newer standardised platforms that give us form, function and volume.

      T31 is potentially an example of this – if the government really commit to it and a build schedule of 1 per year.

      • Out of curiosity, do you know why astronauts use pens and not pencils? Also, the “that’ll do” approach is what killed off the British automobile industry, and would kill off export possibilities. We need to strike a balance between the current high cost of practically everything British industry makes, and the wished for high quality.

        • Interesting on that theme the British Motorbike Industry operated precisely on that principle going from something like a 60% market share and even destroyed the US industry but within about 10 years was it self destroyed by the Japanese Industry. Worse still the Royal Enfield as an example long lost in the UK is now from its former subsidiary one of the biggest motorbike producers in the World a workhorse in that market and a status symbol elsewhere. Meanwhile BSA once the largest world producer as a brand has been taken up in India is being resurrected with big ambitions but sadly designed in Italy and built in France. If these stories don’t tell a tale of not only industrial decline but subsequent and more relavent today lost opportunities, then what does. We need lateral thinking and vision in all areas but at root few in the city or commercial leadership indeed, see those opportunities or want the risk that originally built the brands and industries worldwide that are being exploited elsewhere now and making money for others as a result. That narrow mindedness needs to change including in defence, one of the few industries that remain at the forefront.

      • this is what you get when your retire boats before you need to. the tralgars are good for years if the political will was there. the whole swiftsure class are mothballed in devonport and rosyth, they were good enough to operate in the libyan conflict, they should be surveyed and where able return to the fleet

        • There is a very good reason no one operates Nuclear Boats that are 40 years Old unless they have very expensive refits. The hulls May be fine but the PWR metal components have a finite life. Build some more Astutes but uprate the Turbines.
          In fact if you really want to boost anti sub capability at a reduced cost and boost British Industry justo for economies of scale. Have a look at RR and their idea of Modular Nuclear Power Stations.

    • Mike I think you are spot on. I’m still struggling to come to terms with the fact that the carriers can only operate the F35B. One must remember that since 2003, the 2nd Iraq war and Afghanistan have been major distractions, taking a lot of the defence budget. Also, was it not Geoff Hoon who said we would not enter into another conflict by ourselves? This must have a bearing on treasury thinking.

  3. Reassuring to see this come from a non-RN source. Hopefully this will give what has been said a little extra clout. Possible speeding up of P-9 deliveries in forthcoming review?

  4. A foreign policy that for ever demands more from the forces and forces that can’t cope. If we intend to be a leading power in the post Brexit world for own benefit and that of our allies and potential free trading partners there is only one answer. The Defence budget has to rise.
    For the Royal navy I think we have to accept two tiers. Firstly we commit to two carrier/amphibious battle groups with all combatants fully equipped and fully maintained. Four Type 45 and four Type 26.
    Now we decide what money we have for everything else, escorts. mine warfare, submarines, both nuclear and conventional (north sea) etc.
    Whatever we decide we must carry it out superbly well.

    • Agreed but I really think a CBG needs to be 4 T26 and 2 T45. As we have all been saying over the past few months Subs are very hard to find (even old diesel ones) and for me the screen of 4 escorts is not enough for what is a £6-10bn floating airport.

      I see the escort group as having the T45’s close in screening and providing air cover with the 4 T26’s deployed north, south, east and west and an astute in hunter killer mode operating in a wider radius.

      I really do get uncomfortable and as was proved with the US CBG’s with the danish(I think) electric subs, it is very difficult to screen these big assets properly.

      The other thing for me is these carrier groups need to be 1 on – 1 off so that is essentially 2 lots of everything.

      Then we can concentrate on the other bits – starting with our commitments to the northern flank.

  5. As I understand it the best weapon to use against a submarine is another submarine. Its a pity we will only have 7 Astutes, we really could do with a couple more as a minimum. However at £1.5bn+ they are not cheap.

    • Hi Paul

      They are indeed not cheap but they are worth it, I think a major issue these days is recruitment and retention of crews. 2 more would be good which would give us 4 x 1on/1off + 1 in maintenance.

      I also read somewhere that a deal around the £850m mark for an eight boat was offered and rejected by HMG, but not sure how accurate this is.

      Certainly 2 more would make a difference to the overall price of the fleet and give greater force depth.

  6. Defence should be at the top of our shopping list in these dangerous times. Unfortunately it hardly gets mentioned in budgets and takes a back seat compared to schools and hospitals. Let s face it if the government carry on as they have been, totally neglecting defence, we will struggle to defend our homeland let alone be able to police certain parts of the world. It s time the government started looking ahead long term. Verdict: too little, too late.

  7. Appalled that so many on BBCs HYS on this think it’s just another general posturing for more money. Hollowed out is right. When will any government say the armed forces can take no more cuts? 8 ASW frigates. No MPA until 2020. 7 Astutes. Italy, Japan, S Korea, India, France, Turkey all have more escorts than the RN has. If we can’t afford more Astutes, build some AIP conventional subs like other countries do. Don’t cut the marines or amphibians, they’re one of the best assets we have for expeditionary projection. For goodness sake build more frigates (so we have 25-35 escorts & can meet all our commitments as well as CTGs) & recruit the manpower needed to to run what we have.
    When Nimrod was scrapped we should have immediately bought a replacement, even a few old P-3s until a long term replacement was ready.

    I’m so angry at the political incompetence the forces have suffered from.

    • This is what I was trying to get across Frank. I won’t repeat other than to say we need to decide first what it is we want to do and then build accordingly.
      f we can’t afford more Astutes we build six AIP conventional boats. The Russians are developing big time in the Artic so cover for the GIUK gap would be ideal.
      If we can only run to six type 26 to provide for the carriers then so be it buy then we build 10/12/14 of the best equipped type 31 we can afford.
      Maybe we need 12 P9’s OK we cancel a few F35’s to pay for them.

      I don’t know if any of this is actually right but I do know that if you or I want a new car or a bottle of scotch it all starts with a plan!!

      • I can only agree with sentiment but would add that we have forgotten that we are an island so the maritime environment must take first priority in defence spending. That should mean more P8s, ASW escorts along with Merlins, 4-6 diesel electric subs, mine war fare vessels and possibly re-rolling some RMs. At the same level of priority should be U.K. air defence. I am sure that the technology has changed but the UKs vulnerability at sea never will. What we then do with the rest of the defence budget is more open to discussion but to me I would keep the carriers and the amphibious capability but rerole the army and make it smaller for home defence and as a hard hitting intervention force but raise the quality of the personnel. The RAF would require more Transport and intelligence aircraft to support this force. Let lesser nations configure their forces for baby hugging missions because we can always step down to that if required. As for fighting Terrorism that is a limited challenge and is not an all military affair. Controversial perhaps but if it was a genuine large scale threat then we would deploy more forces. It is a real but convenient threat for politicians to scare people and to cut core and essential military capabilities to invest in anti terrorism precautions. These are kept secret but are cheaper of course. Synical yes but U.K. politicians are not to be trusted.

        • What ever happened to the DE subs that were planned even some built I believe, all those years back, who were they sold to and are they still operative? Amazing that it was decided that non nuclear subs were pointless back then when such subs seem to be doing stirling service around the world and now suggested on here as an option.

        • I didn’t carry on onto the army and air force Sbj but I think your thoughts and mine are very similar. We have to start with the navy and home air defence and go from there.
          The carrier groups are a major commitment world wide along with the Astutes and the deterrent boats. Other Royal Navy assets to be assigned as required.
          The Royal Air Force, given the right kit, can intervene almost anywhere and generally I would think they are reasonably happy with their lot.
          As you say, air and seaborne by commando and para forces
          Balance of the forces to be trained up to reinforce the Nordic nations and possibly the Baltic states. Both groups are within our sphere and would, I think, co opertae well with UK forces.

          Overall I think this allows for the UK to be SEEN worldwide to commit to NATO and provide forces for Europe’s northern flank.Not bad for a days work.

        • Been arguing for this for years!

          RN and RAF should be the priorities.

          Army at 1 war fighting division, rapid reaction units like paras marines and UKSF. Rest home defence.

  8. We all want more money spent on defence. The best way to do this is through a more successfull economy. Every single one of us could contribute to this by altering our buying habits slightly. If we shifted 10% of our spending to British made goods and services the trade deficit would disappear, the government deficit would disappear, productivity would improve, wages would go up and we could spend more. (Cambridge university study, not me, although it can surely only be a good thing.) Now No doubt some will say it’s just not possible, we don’t make enough and it’s too expensive. And yet I drive a British made car (foreign ownership accepted, but still a big benefit to the British economy), my sofa is British made, my bed is British made, my carpets and curtains are British made, most of my clothes are British made, almost all the food and drink I buy are British made, if you go into Wilko now there are even reasonably priced pots, pans and no end of plastic stuff made in the UK. Even when I use services like banking and insurance I try to work out, through the mire of multinationals, what will benefit the British economy the most. Sometimes it’s not easy, I accept that, but there is no real need to be as fundamentalist about it. All it takes is a 10% switch. This Christmas (as for the last I don’t know how long) I will give 100% British made gifts. Most are locally made so even the supply chain is not complex. If you want more money spent on defence let’s all work together to make the British economy more successfull, we will have all done our bit and the Treasury will have no excuse but to fund it properly.

    • Mike

      Agreed – but where is the Govt in all this, there is no education to the masses either on how to manage their own money (and spiralling debts) or how they can help themselves by being more pro British.

      During Brexit I was shocked that the area where the Nissan factory is based voted for Brexit – believing they are too big to be dumped by the Govt and that they would get a bailout. This is where we are nowadays, people live in cloud cuckoo land…and do not understand the implications of their actions.

      Buy British and keep your family and friends in a job, Buy non British and you are keeping some other countries in work.

      80%+ of all chicken in ready meals in the UK comes from Thailand… says it all really

  9. I don’t get the whole obsession with the export market. We pay full cost and carry the risk and then other nations max on our investment. In addition they will build the design locally, meaning almost no extra jobs in the UK, and very little extra tax revenue. then we look at every war we have fought in the last few decades and every time the other side brought arms from us.

    • The emphasis on exports is just an economic imperative for a nation that cannot feed itself and which since North Sea oil tailed off imports a significant amount of its energy needs.
      But there are smart ways to tackle the issue without exporting jobs. Skoda cars are typically VW designs one cersion back. Ditto Turkish Bekos are older Bosch designs I think. Dacia cars are obsolete Renaults. But to adopt these strategies you have to have a strong home market to start with.

  10. The entire British armed forces are starved of money. The past 20 years of sheer wastage and incompetence in procurement have contributed to the current high expenditure, low force numbers we currently have.
    Cutting the type 26 order to just 8 ships and only ordering 9 Poseidon MPAs will not have significantly improved our anti submarine capability.
    we need a further 4 type 26s and a follow on order for 6 more Poseidon aircraft.
    The type 45s need a mk41 vl system.
    The best anti submarine defence however is the Astute class hunter killers. They are easily able to track and defeat current Russian and Chinese subs, we just need more of them, another 3-4 as a minimum.
    Targeted procurement with strict budget and timelines could deliver all of these war winning systems, we just need the treasury to uplift the RN manpower and defence budget to allow this.

  11. We live in a global free economy, whilst protectionism and tariffs may have short term benefit in the medium long they are highly destructive.

    UK companies need to masters of high technology and market driven. This will generate high quality jobs and wages, plus tax revenue to pay for the public services we need.

    I would only buy British where it offers value to myself and the wider economy, in terms of quality and price. I suggest that the MOD spend it’s budget using the same principle.

    Regards brexit, I hope the UK secures a Canada type deal (forget about Canada plus plus deal it will cost more than the current membership fees we have to pay) Remaining in the EU or a Noway type deal would not uphold the brexit referendum vote. A Canada style will have economic consequences but the majority voted to leave and that’s that

    • I think we need a minimum of Canada plus financial services, and given the EU’s export trade surplus in manufactures with the UK I think we can negotiate that on a quid pro quo basis.

    • Mike your global free economy is a fantasy. The public sector and many in business in Europe and the US support their own. We buy trains, cars, vans and many other items from abroad based on single market rules that other nations in the EU get around pure and simple. A good example is our Police buying BMWs instead of British made vehicles from companies such as JLR. The price and quality difference is marginal but the impact long term of this policy is a gradual eating away of making things here. We even have shampoo advertised as being of superior quality because it is German. We Brits need a kick up the ass.
      Unfortunately any business in the UK that is successful and a PLC is soon sold abroad so some short term profits can be generated in the City. Yes by the very people who preach the free market but then need Billons to bail them out when it all goes wrong. We even see UK businesses taken over by smaller foreign companies and the UK government fails to intervene because it would upset the City of London. (the home of many ex politicians and their ex public school chums). We don’t need protectionism just a government who understands what is in the UKs long term economic and social interest. If we had such a policy then the four Tides would not have been built in Korea but in the UK as part of a consistent drumbeat of orders for UK shipyards. It would not be difficult but it might take some effort and an attention span longer than five minutes, which counts out politicians our I am afraid.

  12. We do not have the capacity to build anymore astutes or ssk’s it would delay the Dreadnoughts by years just to build an extra one, but we definitely need ssk for home waters so buy them off Germany or Japan. More than any other vessel we need more subs. Cap f35b at 80 that’ll leave enough for the carrier and get 3 more p8. We don’t need to be able to do everything focus on asw leave the land to Europe

    • Guys we don’t buy them, we could build them by planning for their construction in the future. This takes time, patience and long term industrial development. Yes collaborate with the Germans or Japanese but we should build our own.

      • We don’t have the capacity full stop, plan for the future sure, but if you want a licence built foreign sub you will still need to wait for dreadnoughts to be built. Anything else I’d say build here, but the timeframe for getting extra boats in the water would be so far in the future that we’d have already filled capacity planning for the astute replacements. Unless there is huge expansion in submarine building in this country the only way for more is foreign built.

        • Capacity can be built. Skills can be acquired. But you have to want to do it. This is our problem; we don’t want to do it so we believe it’s not possible.

          • Paul you have hit the nail on the head. We nearly lost the ability to build attack submarines full stop because of no coherent long term planning and treating defence procurement like a supermarket buying groceries. Our great British Dreadnought subs have French steel for their outer hull because there was no bid for this material according to BAE from a UK supplier as we are continuing to reduce our industrial base. What about future classes?
            It is only a matter of time before building subs in the UK will go the same way as MBTs and in the medium term future combat aircraft. What is planned to replace Typhoon as production dry’s up in the 2020s. BAE will be providing certain bits of the F35 but the UKs ability to produce entire aircraft is being wound down now with large scale job losses in the NW.
            I can hear it now “we don’t have a large enough domestic market and we must accept a smaller share of the manufacture” whilst France continues to prove us wrong.
            The UK government should be investing in the coming drone technology and putting us ahead of our European rivals. Note the word rivals and not partners. It is a competitive world.

  13. J, Barrow is midway through a £300m expansion for Successor and currently has 3 astutes in various stages of build.

    I think we could fast track a further 2 without significant impact to the Successor programme and this would bring us to a number that would definitely help the RN.

    It will also de-risk Successor as I think Successor is likely to be a larger version of the astute class and by building an additional 2 (in record time I might add) the workforce would really lay a marker down and further build their expertise that they can the transfer into the larger successor class.

  14. How do Britain’s A/S escorts stop fast, deep-diving SSNs, armed with long range weapons, from attacking our surface fleet?

    A couple of lightweight torpedoes on a fairweather helicopter?
    Hang on a mo while we get the helicopter out, arm it, do the pre-flight checks ………

    Why don’t we have an Asroc equivalent – 24/7 A/S capability?

  15. Anti Air Warfare AAW is quick , gets the photo ops and the press coverage. Pretty pictures of missile launches and zoomies hammering in at low level against ships during sea training. All very exciting.

    Awfully Slow Warfare (ASW) as those who have practiced it will know it, is not a cheap or easy skill to practice or maintain. Its usually exercised during the night because it takes hours to accomplish and the rest of the ship cannot do anything else whilst its happening. Better to do practice at night when everyone is asleep and noise levels are low. A 6 hour ASWEX is to be honest is like watching paint dry and not exciting.
    The equipment to accomplish it is not cheap either.
    Quiet, electric drive Frigates such as the tail equipped T23s and (to replaced by) T26 are expensive to keep quiet and fit the equipment to.
    Subs are ruinously expensive to procure and operate.
    Aircraft both fix wing and rotary are not cheap to purchase or operate either.

    Across defense you need to spend within the budget. For many reasons most of which stemmed from paying for land conflicts, ASW was a quick and easy target for cost cutting.
    Gap the maintainers post on a ship and mothball the equipment. (MTLS and Sonar 2050)
    Don’t practice and save fuel
    Don’t fly ASW and save air frame life and fuel.
    Don’t drop sonobuoys they are not reusable.
    All where quick and easy wins for cost saving.

    So now you need to spend to get back to the head of the ASW top table. No surprise there.
    Is the future equipment purchase schedule going to be enough?
    Well it depends what you want to do with the kit once you have it.
    The Russians are not going to surge 300 subs into the N Atlantic …those days are long gone. The subs the Russians now have are better than the older models but know where near the numbers seen in the Cold war era.
    The threat is going to be a handful of old Nuke boats or Diesel boats in the hands of smaller nations.
    Can you deal with those threats with 9 MPAs , 8 Frigates and some Astutes.
    Yes , but having more assets is always a good policy …the problem being how to pay for it and how to man them.
    I don’t think there is a quick fix in the current climate. The RN has one priority at the moment and that is to get the QE and its task group out on tour in 2020. Nothing else will get a look in.
    In 5 years time things may be better…we shall see.

  16. There has clearly been an appalling lack of joined up thinking in defence spending. Cost cutting deep into the flesh with no regard to operational implications or national security. All covered with a smokescreen of spin. The media has failed to spot the difference between reality & spin/cliche. We either pay for adequate forces now, or pay dearly with blood & possibly either defeat or nuking another nation after our pitifully inadequate conventional forces are neutralised.

  17. It seems everyone who has posted recognises that there is a problem with the defence policy as it stands. Yes, the “Brexit Effect” has added to the problems the MOD is facing, but the devaluation of the pound is not the major factor. The issues facing the MOD cannot be tied down to one or two things but is a combination of politics, profiteering and poor management.
    1. Politics – Two words – culpability and delusion. Every Government life cycle, there is a defence review. Each successive Government has its own agenda and will therefore review with the aim of cancelling what the previous Government put in to place. This has a continuous cyclical effect not only on the MOD but also manufacturers. Contracts are now written up whereby the cost of cancelling is nearly the same as the in-service costs. The National Audit Office and the Defence Select Committee are very good at highlighting bad decisions or cost over runs etc, but they have no teeth! The MOD and Government in particular do not have to comply with any decisions made from formal meetings or audits.

    2. Profiteering – Each major defence contract now includes not just the in-service cost but also a through life support contract. If we take the Chinook as an example (OK not ASW – but bear with me). A new Model F airframe cost in the region of £16 million. We bought 14 new build aircraft and fitted them out with Thales cockpits. This brought an additional costs to integrate the Thales cockpit. So the real cost per airframe was closer to £21 million. So how is the additional cost broken down/justified; risk surveys, drawing amendments, spares package and new maintenance manuals. No, the spares package is part of a different through life support contract. Risk survey, possibly. But the cockpit was already integrated as part of the Mk2 to Mk4 upgrade, slightly different airframe but still the same operating parameters. New maintenance manuals, fundamental to maintaining the aircraft, bizarrely these manuals were freshly written and not a development of the previous Mk4 manuals. Drawing changes, does it really cost that much to amend a engineering drawing? This is not an isolated case of trying to maximise profits from a new contract but is carried out through the defence industry, as the MOD is seen as an untrustworthy cash cow. Untrustworthy, because each successive Government will try to undermine/change the previous Governments defence contracts. For example the Type 26 contract, originally planned as a like for like replacement of the Type 23s. But now has been reduced to 8, but the costs have not dropped as BAE Systems “require” a return of their development costs! Really, the ship has been in development for the last 20 years.

    3. Poor Management – To ensure they have a full career and pension senior officers will not state the truth when asked. They will answer a question with a politically minded answer, as the Government cannot be seen to make bad decisions. For example, the last Sea Lord when asked by the Select Committee if he thought 6 Type 45 destroyers were enough? The answer was basically, yes we can carry out the current commitments. It did not expand on the role the ships would be undertaking when part of a CBG, where at least two would be the minimum to provide sufficient air defence or allude to the lack of manpower. There was an opportunity to put on record that there were not enough ships or that was not enough manpower to man them, so why didn’t he? Is it because he thought that it wouldn’t make any difference or that he would have been sacked?

    Ok, rant over, but what is the solution? Can we justifiably remove the influence Government has over Defence, as they set the overall policy. Can we give the NAO and the Select Committees Government oversight. Does this require a constitutional change, will a Government allow another agency to over rule its decisions – not likely. But why should UK Defence Companies be allowed to treat the MOD as a cash cow? Is it right that a company will look to maximise their dividends over the interests of the Nation. More importantly, should our military leadership not only have the moral courage to speak out when poor decisions are being made, but also be protected when they do?

    Over to you….

    • Dave

      Very good analysis – spot on.

      Possible solutions:

      1. 25 year defence plan and budget that is ringfenced, approved and controlled by the commons defence select committee and subject to full annual audit that has implications for the heads of force.

      2. Equally contracts with the defence industry need to be fixed cost – based on a set number of units and committed numbers maintained (ie: the price is fixed for 10 units – if the Govt buy less they pay the same).

      3. Stop the gold plating of equipment in preference to replacing with new earlier. Moores law states technology moves on at an incredible pace and this pace is accelerating – so what is good today may well be defunct in 10 years.

      4. Support our industries and if necessary re-nationalise.

      5. Create a single integrated force with one command and a structure capable of meeting the new requirements of the 21st century.

      6. Provide adequate funding for the capabilities the Commons Defence Select Committee agree with the government of the day.

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