The planned decommissioning of the Royal Navy’s helicopter carrier HMS Ocean in 2018 without replacement is a nonsensical step and puts accountancy and politics above our nation’s security and our national interests.

Article by Oliver B. Steward, a Doctoral Candidate in International Security at the University of East Anglia. This article is the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of the UK Defence Journal.

It will leave a hole in our amphibious warfare and carrier based capabilities of our Royal Navy which will limit our operational range and effectiveness.

For a maritime nation is makes perfect sense that we invest and maintain our current force levels, if not to supplement it with newer ships, while refitting older ones. It is vital that our national and military interests are served by having amphibious warfare capability to enable the UK to launch far ranging geographical operations overseas.

Historically during 2014, HMS Ocean underwent a £65 million refit. The Defence Minister at the time Philip Dunne said

“I am delighted that this contract will not only ensure that HMS Ocean remains a significant, highly flexible and capable warship for years to come.”

Sadly this has become a testament to the all well known fact that rhetoric by many politicians do not match with practice.

While the MOD report it would maintain a “significant amphibious capability” including the new Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers – but even those large ships will not fully enter service until 2020 leaving a capability deficit (this means they will not have functional fighting aircraft and will not be on active deployment until that time).

It is worth noting that HMS Ocean as a ship has served our nation in an exemplary fashion, and all the crews that served on her. Her actions include those in Kosovan crisis, to the 2003 Iraq War, providing logistical and tactical support for the London 2012 Olympics as well as participating with NATO exercises in the Mediterranean.

My hope is that we will witness a reversal of this decision in the context of growing international security challenged and the government looks into possibility refitting this ship to assume a more multirole function with the possibility of accommodating F35 planes. This will enable this carrier to be kept it in service until the 2020s and beyond.

The Queen Elizabeth class ships are a tremendous asset to our Royal Navy, but I sincerely believe that the evidence points to a continued carrier capability during the building and testing of the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

If a conflict breaks out in 2018, the UK will not have a current carrier with training adequate to deploy aircraft to a conflict zone.  HMS Ocean should be kept operational for at least the interim if not the long term period.

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I am currently a part time student at the University of East Anglia studying for a PhD in International Security. The title of my thesis is: Obama’s Wars’: The Changing Nature of Obama’s Grand Strategy during the First and Second Administration in relation to the Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya. I teach International Organisations: Conflict and Development at an MA level as well as Global Politics at the UEA. I graduated with an MA in International Relations (UEA), and also a BA (Hons) in Politics (UEA). My interests include strategy, grand strategy in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific, international relations and politics, maritime strategy, counter-terrorism, counter-insurgency warfare, and maritime policy.

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Harry bulpit
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Harry bulpit

There really is no chance of us keeping her, let alone modifying her to operate F35. Nevertheless the less a good article, and interesting idea for any future helicopter assault ships.

Steve
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Steve

let’s pretend for a moment it was free to refit ocean to support f35b operations. Now let’s look at what the impact would be. Realistically it seems the QE class will be used one at a time and operating around 12 jets on most realistic deployments (including wars like Afghan/ Syria/ etc) This would mean that ocean could potentially deploy with almost as many jets for a fraction of the price and questions would be asked again on why make the QEs. The counter argument is that the QE can support much more jets when needed, which only works if… Read more »

Harry bulpit
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Harry bulpit

No. While I agree we need more jets QE is simply much better then ocean. It has the capacity to Carr more as you said, it has a larger flight deak to allow better handling and to allow the jets more runway, this in turn means the aircraft have the capacity to Carry more ordinance, ocean probably couldn’t even fit 12 f35, and even if it could there would be no room for the support aircraft such as Merlin, QE has a much better maintenance capacity and brilliant air traffic controller capacity.

andy reeves,
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andy reeves,

modifications, an expensive at lhat, such as the deck coatings would again cost a lot and the politicians would balk at the idea of spending more money on a ship they’ve already decided they can do without. thisa reminds me of the sale of the harriers which, if they had been kept would have enabled ‘big lizzie’ to be an operational carrier now.

andy reeves
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andy reeves

THE POLISH GOVERNMENT ARE CLAIMING RUSSIA HAS BOUGHT THE TWO MISTRALS FORone euro.

FrankLT
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FrankLT

We need a dedicated LPH that is designed for the job. Refiitting Ocean for “the possibility of accommodating F35 planes” is ridiculous as she’s far too small & would require special flight deck coatings to be able to use her flight deck. Now she’s being sold to Brazil that horse has bolted. The QEs need to concentrate on strike carrier duties, not be jeopardised sitting close inshore during amphibious ops. That’s what a more expendable LPH is for. The RMs are one of our most effective, elite units with skills unmatched within the UK. We should not be throwing away… Read more »

Maurice10
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Maurice10

Sadly the Chancellor will push across the table a folder marked ‘Military Budget’ and say to the Defence Minister, ‘It’s up to you how you spend this but that’s it.’ Suddenly, all the emotions and rationality begins to freeze and a shark reality steps in. How would we the general public react? I do share all the worries about the UK’s ability to defend its self going into the future, but fiscal pressures call for a talented team of experts to be allowed to make the right decisions, the question is, will they be given the opportunity?

Nick Bowman
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Nick Bowman

HMS Ocean is twenty years old. She was built to commercial standards with a limited projected lifespan. It certainly wouldnt be sensible to refit her for F35s and I’m not sure you could if you wanted to. You can suggest replacing her with a similar ship but you’d only do that if your intention was to retain the rest of the “significant” amphibious capabilty. There is no point in maintaining an amphibious capability unless you commit to a critical mass of ships and equipment sufficient to conduct an amphibious landing of useful proportions. My view (not the popular one) is… Read more »

Paul.P
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Paul.P

Deliver the RM by different means. A French Mistral?

IvanOwl
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IvanOwl

Nick, You are right, without increasing the defence budget something has to go. The question is what should go. We have a budget in the UK of a certain size. The budget pays for NHS, education and so on. It is also used to try to pay down the deficit. What politician would wish to tell their constituents that they will have reduced spending on NHS, education etc. – with the money instead been used for defence. Not too many. Those interested in the Navy, and defence in general, see it differently. Defence is seen as an insurance policy. When… Read more »

andy reeves,
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andy reeves,

already done, there seems to be a new one every day

IvanOwl
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IvanOwl

Good point Andy, but it’s the only thing we can do that will make a difference, (apart from talk amongst ourselves). There is another way to look at this. It is an opportunity to inform politicians, both new and entrenched, why defence expenditure is important (even if it’s just bluntly reminding them in your letter that xyz defence company is in their constituency). Politicians, like most people, like to hear their own voices above all else. Give them a reason to be interested (jobs/wider profile etc.) and then when there is more money in the budget, they will start to… Read more »

Nick Bowman
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Nick Bowman

You got it, Ivan. Those of us who strongly support our military and spend time trying to understand the balance of power and our role in it can be guilty of “blue sky dreaming”, as you suggest. The truth is that there is limited enthusiasm for increased defence spending in parliament and still less on the streets. The general population does not understand defence enough to make spending more a vote winner. I had a recent defence minister write to me to tell me as much, in response to my requesting more money for this and for that. The conclusion… Read more »

IvanOwl
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IvanOwl

Well said Nick.
Letter writing to help lobby support, and generally attempting to make friends/others aware of the defence situation is our best hope at the moment.
Once the UK has a clearer picture of our financial future, then we will find more political willingness to allocate more funds towards defence.
This been especially true if an awareness can be developed that defence spending also creates jobs, benefits exports and implies solid defence support to allies who in turn will be more open to giving us better trade deals.
We can then potentially see our dreams turn into reality.

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Oceans time is up and I don’t think we need a like for like replacement. We need to be smarter with the RFA fleet and get behind fully loading the QEC’s to extract maximum value out of them. Currently we have an RFA fleet of 4 Tides (on way to replace already decommissioned vessels) and will have a requirement for another 6-8 logistics vessels in the next 10-20 years. The amphibious fleet is being reduced (again) but is currently Ocean, Argus, Albion, Bulwark, and 3 Bays. Going forward the requirement for both fleets could be provided by an additional 4/5… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
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Daniele Mandelli

How about this as an alternative.

Remove the RM from the RN TLB and put them in the army, as 3 Cdo Brigade as now.

Removes 5,500 odd from the RN which desperately needs manpower for ships it has.

Now cut army by similar amount.

Army in reality keeps numbers, gains a brigade, and RN budget has a massive saving.

Fedaykin
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Fedaykin

Not a particularly well researched article, it is easy to say “Lets keep Ocean or she had a £65 million refit in 2014” but there is no real investigation of what that means. As already pointed out HMS Ocean was built to commercial standards with a projected twenty year lifespan. Now in-itself people don’t fully understand what that means. First of all that it was built to commercial standards with a projected twenty year lifespan doesn’t mean it can’t be kept in service longer but it would mean at an exponential increase in cost. In respect of the 2014 refit… Read more »

Dave Branney
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Dave Branney

Fedaykin, I must agree with your comments above. HMS Ocean was built to a budget (cheap) and it shows. She has served the Country well and it is about time a replacement was planned and sourced. The National Ship Building Strategy (NSBS) was I believe, a solution to the cost over-runs and multiple delays in procuring new vessels. Should this not include all ships, not just frigates etc? The beauty with Ocean is that she is a flat top which brings inherent flexibility to helicopter operations. Compared to the Invincible class her hangar is larger and better laid out. She… Read more »

Fedaykin
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Fedaykin

I have talked about this elsewhere but this starts to get into a question about what kind of capability do we want? Rather than retype my musings here is a copy and paste of what I said on the Savetheroyalnavy site, it was a bit controversial for some but does touch upon what you are thinking about: “Yes but it would be challenging, also a general observation amongst all the hysteria these are rumours of options (have a look at this to understand what that means: https://thinpinstripedline.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/these-are-your-options-minister.html) rather than a plan to fully disband the Royal Marines. The option offers… Read more »

Sjb1968
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Sjb1968

I have no problem with reviewing what we do now and how we might do things in the future but when you spend £90m refitting a ship then immediately talk about scrapping it then all talk of evolving strategy, new priorities and having a debate about things in a rational manner are total and utter bollocks. Sorry for the language but what is currently going on has nothing to do with planning sensibily for the future so let’s not pretend it is. Our military require protection from further cuts and not experts making suggested changes based on their own particular… Read more »

Tim
Guest
Tim

Good post Fedaykin. That last part about fire and forget Harpoons reminds me of all the investment in the RAF to keep a fleet of bombers active and then saying let’s find some targets. And we do that whilst not remembering that we will likely have to pay for the rebuild later in cash, and in the blood of our peace keeping troops. I would have more Paras if I could but I wouldn’t like to choose an operation bigger than a 300 man drop. Likewise for the RMs, I would have more of them if I could but the… Read more »

Dave Branney
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Dave Branney

The last operational parachute drop, which was a night drop, in a hostile country was carried out by our forces in Afghanistan. It did not involve the Parachute Regiment! I wouldn’t say it was a full regiment drop but more a pathfinder drop. We should always keep that option open, especially as the methods for insertion depend on not only the environment but also what hostile forces are to be expected but also the mission’s intent. There was talk a while back about combining the roles of the RM and Para’s but I’m not sure how that would work especially… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Hi Fedaykin As you probably know I am a massive fan of the Karel Doorman concept as it just offers so much flexibility. Yes its a compromise but the specs are very impressive – it can deliver solid stores, fuel, aviation fuel, water, ammo and has 2000 metrs of lane and a stern beach. It can handle 6-12 Merlins with relative ease and as you have pointed out can be configured in a number of ways. For me I think we should probably buy 4 more Tide class FFT and then replace all other RFA and amphibious vessels with this… Read more »

Graham
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Graham

Strategically nonsensical? – that basically describes our entire defense policy. The policy is for a first class ‘war winning’ military with global reach, but on a budget that’s less than shoestring.

Chris
Guest
Chris

Got to say some excellent post on here today. So all I will add is that I disagree with the author’s article in almost every detail especially his proposed future use of Ocean. HMS Ocean delivers 18 helicopters and 4 × LCVP Mk5B landing craft (of which we have just 19!). A QE can deliver far more helicopters plus F-35s if necessary. That is a substantial extra part of the ‘What If’ scenarios we are discussing. The key to my argument is keeping Albion and Bulwark and, if possible, initiating a 2 ship class of ‘Albion MkII’ LPDs to work… Read more »

Pacman27
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Pacman27

Theres a couple of comments on here about Para’s and RM and I think they should be merged into a single Commando Force that operates like the Seals or even the French Foreign Legion. I dont mind them keeping their badges (as well as the Gurkhas for that matter) but it really is time we have a single elite force structure under one command (JSOC) Another potential solution is to have a heirarchy where there is no direct entry into the Paras and that you go through the RM, then Paras and finally SFG. This would see the Para’s reduce… Read more »

sjb1968
Guest
sjb1968

No thanks why not reduce the number of our basic infantry Regiments and increase the number of RMs, Paras and Gurha units. These elite units do not seem to suffer with poor recruitment and in he most likely scenarios we face they are the forces we will deploy. Hit hard with your best troops and get out, then let other counties do the baby hugging and peacekeeping. If we cannot afford quantity then some more quality would help. The peacetime army should be a small cadre that forms the nucleus of any increase required in the very unlikely event of… Read more »

Nick Paton
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Nick Paton

Good Evening!
No replacement? Completly incompetent. It see HMG have and are willing to ignore the dangers east! Russia’s military investment should be matched! 2% is far from acceptable ! Wake up before it’s to late!

The Cold War has returned! Pick up your buried heads from the sand and react!
Nick

Nick Paton
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Nick Paton

It seems!