The UK Defence Secretary has announced that the Royal Navy’s power projection capabilities are to increase such that Britain will have the power to defeat “any adversary” “on the seven seas of the world”.

Speaking atop the Royal Navy’s largest-ever aircraft carrier, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said that the state-of-the-art HMS Queen Elizabeth meant that Britain could now combat a vast array of threats, ranging from terrorists to nation-states, from all corners of the globe. This, he indicated, was thanks to recent government defence policy whereby participation in international exercises, new naval ship acquisitions, hikes in defence spending and new overseas bases are at the forefront of a bold new approach.

The manifestation of this global reach is perhaps most obvious in Britain’s international counter-terrorism operations. In the aftermath of the Iraqi forces’ victory in Mosul, Fallon praised the efforts of British forces in the siege of the city, even adding that it was “thanks to” Britain’s forces that so-called Islamic State had finally been driven out of Iraq’s second-largest city, after their three-year stay. Shedding light on the largely secret role of UK force elements in the fight against IS, a military project known as “Operation Shader”, the Defence Secretary explained “We have trained the Iraqi forces. Over 50,000 Iraqi troops have been trained by the British Army. The RAF have flown day and night strike operations in support of ground forces and our Royal Navy has helped guard the American carrier in the Gulf from which other strikes have been flown”.

The UK’s role in counter-terrorism operations in the region has been kept largely unknown in the public domain – the standard Whitehall approach to defence matters, and in stark contrast to French and American approaches, by which it is not uncommon to expose even the most secretive special forces operations. That said, it is thought that Britain has several naval assets in the Gulf, including but not limited to reconnaissance submarines and carrier protection vessels. In addition, British bases in Cyprus (RAF Akrotiri) and Qatar (RAF Al Udeid) have been hosting UK strike and aerial reconnaissance aircraft (both manned and unmanned) which fly day and night operations over Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, a BBC report in 2016 suggested that UK special forces were one of the most active the region, with large numbers in Syria, Iraq and Libya embarking on routine operations, details of which are strictly classified.

However, the UK’s power projection capability is growing in conventional battle theatres, too. With the construction of both HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales – both of which are 65,000-ton naval “super-carriers”, the opening of new Royal Navy facilities east of Suez, primarily in Bahrain, as well as the expansion of Royal Navy deployments to the Asia-Pacific region, it would appear that Britain’s military strategy is expanding to become more outward and bold in nature. Indeed, this is in line with the UK Prime Minister’s announcement in February 2017 of her “May Doctrine” of foreign policy, whereby the promotion of British interests internationally would be at the forefront of the government’s foreign policy.

Notwithstanding, this new strategy comes at a time when British forces face new defence cuts, across the board. British Army numbers are at their lowest since the time of Oliver Cromwell. Royal Marines have seen considerable cutbacks in their strength, apparently in a bid to replace them with naval officers to man the Navy’s new carriers. The RAF’s future is also uncertain, with ambiguity as to how many F-35 jets the UK will eventually purchase and the announcement that the entire Sentinel surveillance fleet would be retired by 2020. Therefore, how Britain will manage to retain its international military footprint, let alone increase it, remains to be seen. Such deep cuts also come at a time when the West faces a global rebalancing of power, with potential foes Russia and China dramatically expanding their defence budgets and power projection capabilities.

37 COMMENTS

  1. Bold statements from Fallon given the cut in T26 orders to just 8, scrapping of Ocean, ordering just 7 Astute SSNs, and no announcements on T31 design or the national ship building strategy. T45 not being fitted with the weapons they should have. Retirement of Tornado aircraft and lack of clarity on F35 variants or numbers in service. Apache numbers cut to 50 and the army at historic low levels.

    The QE class and F35Bs will be a step change in power projection when fully combat ready, but only if we have enough ships to defend them.

    I think he is kidding himself and the nation.

  2. I forgot to add that we will have no Anti-ship missiles from 2018 and the lack of manpower in the Navy to crew its ships!

  3. Foreign policy benefits from the RN can only be gained with a balanced fleet.
    Carriers are just one part of this system.
    All potential adversaries are aware of the limitations and restrictions imposed by not having a balanced fleet.
    Although the RN does extremely well with limited assets and crews, it can not provide a threat to adversaries if its large assets (carriers/ballistic missile submarines/amphibious warfare vessels) do not have the relevant amount of escorts to protect them.
    A carrier’s air wing will do a good job at protecting it from various threats, but not as good as an air defence destroyer (Type-45) and submarine hunter (Type-23 and 26).
    A ballistic missile submarine relies on stealth, but is vulnerable shortly before returning/leaving its base, requiring protection from an attack submarine, P8 for overview, and/or a Type-23 or 26 (or suitably equipped OPV at the very least).
    An amphibious vessel is simple vulnerable at all levels. and needs escort.

    Such foreign policy ideals for the deployment of vessels in task groups, requires several escorts to provide cover, allowing the task group to persuade an adversary of the seriousness of the foreign policies intent.
    This seriousness can not be currently provided due to the limited number of such escort vessels.

    Either the number of such vessels needs to be in the mid twenties (25) or early thirties (34)to ensure they are available for such task groups and still have sufficient numbers to undertake all the other tasks required of them, along with maintenance/refit and travelling from/to patrol areas.

    Either this needs to be done, or adversaries will not take such foreign policies seriously, and will ignore them as nothing more than a providing a few expensive targets.

    For the UK it comes down to:-
    1. Move away from such ambitions aims.
    or
    2. Provide the (real) relevant number of escort vessels/crew to achieve these aims end goals.

    Example:
    A. Sending a lightly escorted carrier to the South China sea will simply annoy the Chinese. We will get no trade deals with China, and they will not see the carrier group as a real threat.
    B. Sending a well escorted carrier group (including an amphibious vessel) to cruise around a friendly (and threatened) country like Malaysia will gain grudging respect from China and strengthen our friendship with Malaysia and its allies (resulting in potential better trade prospects with Malaysia).
    Scenario A. would cost a lot and gain nothing, B. would cost more but gain better local trade for the UK – the tax from such trade would offset the cost of the deployments etc.
    Scenario B. would also greatly improve the UK’s world wide foreign policy standing, showing the UK as a strong and stable country worth investing in – i.e. long term benefits accrue in the form of greater foreign direct investment.

    We need to spend a bit of money to gain back.

    Ivan

  4. All good points. Has the seventh Astute (Ajax) been ordered, yet? Five and six were ordered some time ago (around 2010).

    • Hi Nick,

      Yes the seventh Astute is current being built at the Burrow-in-Furness site.
      (http://www.baesystems.com/en/article/pound300m-facilities-investment-will-transform-uk-submarine-building)
      “Today’s announcement coincides with news that steel has been cut on the seventh and final Astute class submarine and a Submarine Design Services contract worth £23M awarded to BAE Systems by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide support to in-service submarines.”

      Should be launched 2023.
      We really need two more of these vessels, but can not afford them at present.
      However, due to the new building of the ballistic missile submarines, if the UK’s financial prospects start to improve, the building skill and capacity will still be around at Barrow to perhaps build future Astute(s) at a later stage – without the similar excessive cost hikes that would apply to additional Type-45 builds.

      Although I mentioned an Astute could be used for escorting a ballistic submarine near its base, this would be a waste of limited assets. The most practical cover for the ballistic vessels, near their base, is a limited SOSUS net scattered in the deeper water of the Firth of Clyde, and the waters between Ireland/UK. OPV’s fitted with reasonable sonar and light torpedo’s could be vectored toward any unknown targets found on the SOSUS.

      To improve the RN and succeed with our foreign policy goals, our government needs to understand our current resources before they espouse distant unachievable aims.
      This process worked well for Hannibal, and many other creative leaders.

      • foreign nations shop the world for additional hardware, why cant we ? are we too snobbish or over sensitive to the ‘build it in the u.k ethos? if you google amarg facility inventory there is even a lancer there, the u.s bought 72 harriers for£116 million, how many f-15’s or f-16’s would the u.s sell us for that money back? google the naval inactive ships register while you’re there.

  5. Fallon really said that “Britain will have the power to defeat “any adversary” “on the seven seas of the world”.”?

    I’m now deeply concerned that the Queen Elizabeth has encountered a huge problem during her sea trials. There is clearly some sort of hallucinogenic gas leaking from some machinery onboard that has affected Fallon after his recent visit. I’m struggling to understand how Fallon could spout such nonsense given the current state of the RN/RAF (don’t know as much about the army)…

    – Can’t even crew current assets
    – Is having plans cut e.g. 8 T26 (we hope) instead of 13
    – Has upcoming capability gaps (Harpoon, Sentinel)
    – Still no word of T31 progress
    – Painfully slow ramp up of what we have in the plans now e.g. F-35 & P-8
    – The fall in the value of Sterling making funding even the existing plans looking like needing more cash (£10 billion being one figure that has been floated).

    Apart from my hallucinogenic-gas-leak theory I just can’t see where Fallon is coming from with this unless the first bit of this comment is the giveaway: “This, he indicated, was thanks to recent government defence policy whereby participation in international exercises, …”. So yes, we can defeat anyone militarily if, based on our participation in international exercises, we participate with the USA (as in rely on them to get most of the job done) in any future conflict with a major adversary. In that case I suppose what he says is true, assuming the USA wanted to get involved, but it doesn’t actually say anything about the capabilities of the UK military.

  6. Ohhh really??? Well when I was in the Royal Navy Devonport Dockyard always had ships in… a month or so back there was only one ship in and that was German!!! It’s about time our Royal Navy was bolstered not depleted.. the type 23s are nearly 30 years old, they are in refit every couple of years to keep them going! It’s time to build new ships and pour money into all of our armed forces.

  7. Interesting comments about Mosul.

    Reminds me of the old joke about Saint Peter showing a new entrant to the Pearly Gates around Heaven and introducing them to all the different religions there. Then he comes upon a wall and the new bloke asks who is behind the wall? Saint Peter says in a hushed tone, they’re the (insert religion of your choice here), they think they are the only ones here.

    http://www.defence.gov.au/Operations/Okra/default.asp

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  8. “The UK Defence Secretary has announced that the Royal Navy’s power projection capabilities are to increase such that Britain will have the power to defeat “any adversary” “on the seven seas of the world”.
    Am I to read this as a hint that the MOD and the RN have decided to buy the Kongsberg NSM?

    • One can only hope they’ve settled on a replacement to Harpoon already, although I wouldn’t hedge my bets on it.

      Either way, I’m not sure that was the insinuation.

      • LRASM has just done a test fire from a deck-mounted box launcher so that is an option as well launched via Mk41 on T26, box launchers where the Harpoons are on some of the T45 at the moment, and the flexibility to go either box-launched or VLS on T31 depending on where the spec ends up for that.

        I agree that with possible partial commonality with JSM on F-35B and probably P-8A NSM is also a good option.

  9. We’ve had reductions in Type 45 numbers, now reductions in Type 26, no announcement on Type 31 and no mention of a National Ship Building Strategy. We have a single source supplier relationship with BAE that does not offer value for money and we are ending up with less and less ships while costs continue to escalate.

    If Michael Fallon is unable to back up these claims with an announcement of increased ship numbers then he should resign.

  10. So the UK can defeat the Chinese? Grow up and face reality. Not that we should ever want to given China’s and indeed Russia’s investments in this little country.

    • Bingo. “Little Country”
      Thus exposed the lefts and your own chip on your shoulder.
      I’m sorry the UK has not been, nor ever will be, Mozambique, despite your longings.
      I take it you refer to “little country” in terms of geographical size? Yes, we are a little country.
      I also don’t recall any mention anywhere of fighting the Chinese or anyone, only that the UK could if necessary.
      With just fishing boats in your fantasy fleet of course that would be impossible.
      You really do have a problem with the United Kingdom being a medium power don’t you?

      • UPGRADINNG THE O.P.V TO A LIGHT FRIGATE/OPVTO CORVETTE/LIGHT FRIGATE, WOULD HELP THE NEW SIGMA CORVETTE IS CHEAPER, 10 METERS LONGER THAN A RIVER, HAS 20 MORE CREW,IS 7 KNOTS FASTER. YET, COMES WITH-TWO QUAD ANTI AIR LAUNCHERS, TWO TRIPLE TORPEDO LAUNCHERS, A 76 MM OTTO MELERA GUN, BETTER THING FOR US, THEY’RE ALREADY BUILT AND CALLED RIVERS, A PLATFORM THAT HAS ALREADY HAD FOREIGN PURCHASES. 9 MORE SHIPS IN UNDER 12 MONTHS(DOCKYARDS WILLING) WOULD GO A LONG WAY TO MAKING THE r.n A WORLDWIDE ORGANISATION.

  11. Is this government completely deluded or do they think the British public are completely stupid. The Chinese are about to annex the entire South China Sea, despite the International Court in the Hague ruling China had no claim to the area. This overturning of international law and diminishing the authority of the UN will encourage similar grabs of seas all over the world. At a time when the UN convention on the law of the sea is being torn up the Royal Navy does not have the man power to keep the few ships it has at sea. The West’s withdrawal from blue water will create a vacuum that will be quickly filled by expansionist countries and pirates.

  12. If we do get a Harpoon replacement, what will the RN have to give up to get it? This government doesn’t give the Armed Forces something without retiring something else to pay for it!!! Absolutely pathetic – when will the starvation of funds ever end!

    • after the falklands defence spending rose to 5%(briefly) if we could do it then, why not now.a move away from the, we want this system, that gadget,mentality which prevails in the u.k armed forces always pushes projects price up , which is one of the sad reasons projects such as fleet numbers are cancelled or down numbered.

  13. I,m afraid Mr Fallon you are “blowing hard” the facts are there for all to see, Your unrelenting mantra of ” in our ever expanding Defence budget” does not cut any ice with those who are interested . Naval power at its lowest number of ships ever, Army at its smallest for two hundred years , RAF squadrons at the smallest ever. Granted unit costs on equipment is astronomical , given their sophistication , but numbers count as History proves,the many will overcome the few. More money is needed. get MR Bean Counter Hammond to up the anti and then you give substance to your claims

  14. I’m afraid George Fallon loses all credibility in making his regular ridiculous pronouncements. Let us dispense with his fathoms of Bovine Excrement and allow the true soundings speak for themselves.

    • fallons credibility went years ago. Gavin Williamson is the best, most vocal man we have had in my memory(which is fading)!

  15. The UK s power projection would be impressive if the following were true or funded
    1) more than 26 escorts, revert back to plan A and build 13 type 26s and 8-10 type 31 frigates+ plan to replace type 45s in 10-15 years time with an air defence version of type 26 hull
    2) order a 2nd batch of astute class subs to be built concurrently with dreadnought class so uk ssn numbers back upto at least 10.
    3) commit to having in active service more than 48 F35bs so we can provide a full 36 fighter carrier air wing and sufficient force for other RAF/ close air support duties
    4) prepare to replace challenger 2 with a new MBT. A challenger 3 if you like able to defeat Arimata series and projected Chinese tanks with ease. Our materials science is 2nd to none so future composite armour should be within our reach.
    5) more pressing order the Norwegian anti ship missile asap as an interim measure until MBDAs Perseus is ready in the 2030s. About £300 million will cover the requirement and ensure the Royal navy is not left as the only major navy in the world unable to sink enemy warships
    6) order in a 2nd batch of p8A poseidons current planned force level of just 9 aircraft is not sufficient, a further 4-5 planes are needed to provide a viable force, some redundancy and allow for training/ refit/ upgrade requirements.
    7) sort out pay, terms and conditions, quality of accommodation and intensity of deployments forced upon a too small an armed forces. Resolve the attractiveness of a career in the armed forces so that people are willing to join. The current recruitment crises is entirely because of the huge cuts and redundancies made to the armed forces so those that are willing to join have been put off by cuts. The armed forces are no longer a secure long term career.
    8) Aim to increase RN manpower by at least 5000 personnel, Army by 3-5000 and RAF by 2-3000.
    9) retain hms ocean until a purpose built replacement is constructed. It is madness to propose sending a £3 billion QE strike carrier close inshore to undertake the lph role
    10) provide the QE class carriers with a rudimentary self defence armament such as sea ceptor and anti torpedo/ anti mine rockets as per Italian FREMM frigates armaments.
    if as a nation we cannot afford this why do we send £13 billion a year abroad on foreign aid? Why have we just cut corporation tax to the lowest of any major economy?

    • last year, the top two civil servants at the M.O.D took home£800,ooo between them! thats why the m.o.d is so embarrassing.

  16. Could be worse: you could be the RCN and not the RN. Or, for that matter, insert any Royal Canadian “Anything”….
    Our country (Canada) has essentially disarmed itself of everything with the exception of its big mouth and sanctimonious attitude towards others. I am waiting (praying) for Trump (as much as I despise him) to hand us the bill for defending the continent while these Justin Trudeau pant-waists run the place down. We can’t even fight cowboys and Indians anymore 🙁

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