With the 2021 Strategic Defence and Security Review (2021 SDSR) in prospect it is timely to consider what might arise out of this assessment of the United Kingdom’s defence needs going forward.
The review is necessarily presaged by four main factors. These are: the COVID 19 pandemic; the economic downturn; the National Audit Office (NAO) report regarding carrier strike published 26 June 2020; and, new concepts driving the development of the Future Commando Force. Of these factors it may well be that the economic downturn will be the main driver behind the 2021 SDSR, in which case the equipment requirements of the armed services will either have to be scaled down or curtailed entirely. The UK faces difficult economic circumstances in an increasingly dangerous world. Herein lies the dilemma, the upcoming review must consequently make decisions which balance both the requirement for economic stringency, and at the same time not going down the same disastrous path of the 2010 SDSR. Unfortunately, if reports published in The Sunday Times on 5 July 2020 reporting heavy cuts to all three branches of the armed services (subsequently denied by the Defence Secretary) are proven to be accurate the current government has not learnt the lessons of history.
This article was submitted to the UK Defence Journal by Kelvin Curnow. Kelvin’s particular area of interest is naval aircraft and aircraft carriers. He is a keen writer and over the past fifteen years he has had a number of articles published in different journals.
What follows is an attempt to nominate future threats which will be of concern to the UK, and recognising the parlous economic state, a discussion on cost effective ways of countering those threats using both current and new platforms. Nearly all the proposals involve purchase of proven weapons, technology and systems which ensures maximum benefit for every pound spent. It could be viewed as a ‘shopping list’ of equipment, however if the UK is to remain an actor on the global stage it should be considered to be a realistic appraisal of future needs which can be met with proper planning and political will.
Replying to questions in the House of Commons Defence Select Committee on 6 July 2020 the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace stated that ‘only a fool starts the debate on numbers (money) rather than threat’. It is to be hoped that Mr Wallace’s observation is correct and that sufficient money is made available to face the threats to the UK’s future security. Although it is impossible to predict every exigency there are some obvious areas where Britain may find herself required to employ her armed forces.
The possibility of conflict across the entire African continent and the Middle East remains high. Ongoing internal conflicts in Libya and Syria have already required international intervention on the part of the West. The UK remains active in Africa and currently has three Boeing CH-47 HC5 Chinooks along with a 250 strong light cavalry unit deployed in Mali to support a French led operation battling Jihadist insurgents. There is little likelihood of any further large deployments of British troops at this point in time. However, the US is concerned about ‘the threat posed by jihadist groups loyal to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Sahel, a vast region of arid scrubland south of the Sahara Desert, could start to threaten Europe as well as the wider region’. Of particular concern is the civil war in Libya. The UN Government of National Accord based in Tripoli is supported by Turkey, Italy and Qatar while the Libyan National Army is supported by Russia, Egypt and the UAE. ISIS is also active in Libya. With increasing American reluctance to intervene in foreign conflicts it may remain with Britain and France to stem the tide of extremism. Gibraltar and the sovereign bases on Cyprus are strategically placed to counter such threats.
Britain no longer plays a major role in South East Asia and far less the Pacific. China’s desire to dominate the South China Sea will bring it into direct confrontation with a number of nations. Skirmishes have occurred between China and countries surrounding the South China Sea, notably the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam. There have also been low level clashes between China and Japan in the East China Sea. Via the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) Britain has a commitment to consult with the other signatories Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand should any member come under attack. Through the FPDA the UK may be drawn into defending Malaysia against Chinese hostility. Post-Brexit Britain has also indicated that it wishes to build stronger economic and defence ties with Japan. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) approximately eighty percent of global trade by volume is conveyed by sea. Of that volume, sixty percent of trade passes through Asia, with the South China Sea carrying about one-third of all global shipping. The most important shipping channel in the world is the Straits of Malacca which lie between the Malayan peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra. In 2017 a staggering 100,000 vessels passed through the strait. In a sign that Britain understands the growing significance of Chinese belligerence and the necessity of the West to provide a counter to it, the fact that HMS Queen Elizabeth’s first deployment is to Asia and the Pacific cannot go unnoticed. Being an island nation reliant on sea trade Britain should not ignore this section of the globe, particularly post-Brexit.
The Gulf remains an area where conflict between Iran and the West could move beyond the low-level clashes which currently predominate to a more aggressive level of conflict. Iran’s seizure of the British flagged oil tanker the STENA IMPERO on 20 July 2019 can be viewed as a tit-for-tat response to the UK’s impounding of the Iranian oil tanker the GRACE I on 4 July 2019 while she passed through the Strait of Gibraltar. While the seizing of the Iranian tanker was an action in support of EU sanctions against Iran, the action by Iran was illegal because the British tanker was operating in international waters. This is the nature of Iranian actions against Western shipping in that the country operates outside recognised international norms and borders. As part of an international coalition protecting shipping in the Gulf the UK contributes a four-strong mine-hunting force the RFA Cardigan Bay and a Type 23 frigate and Type 45 destroyer under Operation Kipion. This is a substantial commitment in recognition that approximately twenty per cent of the world’s oil exports pass through the Straits of Hormuz. Despite the international coalition, which includes American warships, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that ‘the responsibility in the first instance falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships’ in the Gulf. To protect British interests in the Gulf, the Mediterranean and South East Asia the UK will require more substantial naval forces than what it currently possesses or what is currently planned.
In a speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) on 22 February 2018 General Nick Carter stated that the greatest danger to Britain’s security came from a resurgent Russia. Under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin Russia is prepared more than ever to exercise its military power exemplified by its 2014 occupation of Crimea. This undermined the presumption by NATO members that defence spending could be dramatically reduced because the conclusion of the Cold War signalled the end of any possibility of conflict in Europe. Russia has taken military action in the Crimea, the Donbas region of Ukraine (through proxies) and South Ossetia, using force to protect her interests and extend her sphere of influence. The Baltic states in particular feel threatened by possible Russian military action with the prospect that all three countries could be invaded as easily and quickly as the annexation of Crimea. Unlike Ukraine the Baltic republics are NATO members and Russian aggression would necessarily require a forceful response. With the US focussing on the Pacific and South East Asia as its main area of interest, and its intention to draw down its forces in Germany, the NATO alliance will be required to provide a suitable counter to Russian hostility and Britain will be obliged to play a major part in this.
FUTURE PLANNING – AN INTEGRATED APPROACH
The 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) led by the then Secretary of State for Defence, George Robertson, set out the initial defence policy of the new Blair government. This was a foreign policy led document with an emphasis on expeditionary warfare. The SDR was generally reflected on positively by both defence planners and industry. Unlike reviews both before and since it was not driven by cost cutting. A major decision announced in the SDR was to replace the three Invincible class carriers with two larger vessels. A decision announced in the SDR resulted in the RN’s BAe Sea Harrier FA2 and the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) BAe Harrier GR7 squadrons being merged to form Joint Force Harrier (JFH). As such the Future Carrier Borne Aircraft (FCBA) requirement was revised to include the replacement of the GR7s. This led to the renaming of the programme, with both fighters to be replaced by the Joint Combat Aircraft (JCA). The JCA project was advanced when on 17 January 2001 the UK signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Department of Defense for full participation in the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme. These twin decisions to build the two Queen Elizabeth class (QEC) carriers and purchase the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II have been the primary focus of defence planning since and have attracted a substantial proportion of the defence budget.
Twenty-two years on both programmes are nearing Full Operating Capability (FOC) and sit firmly at the centre of future strategic planning. Both are good examples of how properly undertaken defence reviews which have a clear understanding of future needs can remain relevant even after two decades. A feature of the SDR was that it set out an integrated programme to meet future defence requirements. Unfortunately this has not been repeated since as demonstrated by the 2010 and 2015 SDSRs, the first driven by cost cutting, the latter by the need to fill the huge gaps in capabilities left by the former.
Decisions announced in the SDR could largely be seen as a victory for the RN which had moved away from an emphasis on the size of the surface ﬂeet and chosen instead to focus the navy on three core capabilities: strike carriers equipped with advanced jet aircraft; nuclear-powered attack submarines equipped with Tomahawk land attack missiles; and, an amphibious capability constructed around the Royal Marines. These capabilities remain the key to the future of the UK’s strategic planning.
In two of the scenarios described above the primary means of armed response will come by way of deploying RN ships for both defensive and offensive operations. The proximity of land masses will mean that the ships will operate in the littoral which will place them within range of increasingly sophisticated weapons operated by both state and non-state players. It has become the practice of the UK and USA to fire both sea-launched and air-launched cruise missiles against high value targets. Raytheon Tomahawk land-attack cruise missiles (TLAMs) fired from RN nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) have been used in operations in the Balkans, Middle East and Libya. These weapons have been used against high value strategic targets and integrated air defence systems (IADS). Confronted by high-tech anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) weapons, usually of Russian origin, both the UK and US have fired large numbers of TLAMs and conventionally armed stand-off missiles (CASOMs) such as the MBDA Storm Shadow, thus avoiding the necessity to penetrate hostile air space. Stand-off cruise missiles are now de rigueur and expansion of the number of weapons in the inventory and the platforms from which they can be fired is something of a necessity.
Both the USA and France equip their ships, submarines and aircraft with cruise missiles, a pattern unfortunately not followed by the UK, but moving forward it will no longer be an option. It has been a common measure by successive governments to order ships ‘equipped for but not with’ weaponry. A primary example of this are the Type 45 destroyers which have provision for sixteen strike-length vertical launch systems (VLSs) forward of the existing Sea Viper silos. These could be Mk 41 VLSs for TLAMs and Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs), or Sylver A70 silos for the MBDA MdCN (Missile De Croisière Naval – naval cruise missile), a derivative of the Storm Shadow/SCALP. The Type 26 has provision for twenty-four Mk 41 VLSs while the Danish Iver Huitfeldt class frigates, on which the Type 31 is based, are fitted with four Mk 41 VLS. It is logical therefore that with political will the Type 31 could also be fitted with Mk 41 VLSs. Accelerating the Type 31 programme, equipping them with a more comprehensive sensor suite and arming the frigates to the same standard as the Iver Huitfeldt class is a cost effective means of putting new, well equipped ships to sea relatively quickly replacing an increasingly obsolete fleet of Type 23s.
With the imminent withdrawal of the Boeing Harpoon Block 1C from RN service in 2023, consideration is being given to an interim replacement until the Anglo-French Future Cruise and Anti-Ship Weapon (FCASW) becomes available. Among possible contenders to fill the Interim Surface to Surface Guided Weapon (I-SSGW) requirement are the LRASM, the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) and the Saab RBS15 Mk 4 ‘Gungnir’ (Odin’s Spear). Whichever missile is chosen it should be capable of being launched from canisters, VLSs and the P-8A and be capable of anti-shipping strike as well as land attack. The United States Marine Corps is integrating both the LRASM and NSM on their F-35Bs so either missile would be good choice, not only from the aspect of providing another launch platform but also commonality with the UK’s principal ally.
Currently the RN relies on the Block IV TLAM which is launched from the torpedo tubes of Astute and Trafalgar class submarines for long-range land attack. The TLAMs are placed in a capsule to permit underwater firing. The USN fires its TLAMs from Los Angeles and Virginia nuclear attack class submarines (SSNs) and Ohio class nuclear powered cruise missile armed submarines (SSGNs) via VLSs. The RN has a modest stockpile of approximately seventy missiles. Replenishment of the stockpile will be impossible because Raytheon is to cease production of the capsule launched version of the TLAM. If the RN wishes to persist with launching land attack missiles via torpedo tubes it will only have one option, which is to purchase the capsule launched MdCN. Lockheed is in discussions with USN about developing a submarine launched version of the LRASM. Inevitably this will be launched via a VLS. Hence the RN finds itself once again in a dilemma facing multiple requirements for replacement missiles with a limited budget. At this point the best hope lies in the FCASW, the 300+ km range MBDA CVS401 Perseus stealthy hypersonic cruise missile being developed for a possible in service date of 2030. This will be an ant-ship and land attack missile and will be capable of being launched from air platforms, the Mk 41 VLS and submarines via capsules. To replace weapons either obsolete or growing in obsolescence by the end of the decade the UK must commit to this programme and stay the course once the decision is made to purchase the missile.
Faced by future A2/AD threats committing to the Perseus will be key to future British power projection. While the QEC and its air wing (CVW) will play a central role in attacking potential threats and protecting the carrier strike group (CSG) there remains the difficulty that Russia and China possess AShMs which have a range greater than the F-3B’s 518 mi (834 km) radius action. Both countries have demonstrated a propensity to supply this class of weapon to both state and non-state actors who oppose the West. This dilemma could have been overcome by equipping the Lightning with Storm Shadow missiles, but plans to do so were cancelled. In the confines of both the Gulf and the Mediterranean ships in a CSG could be targeted by both long range AShMs and its aircraft by long-range surface to air missiles (SAMs) such as the Russian S-400 Triumf which has an operational radius of 248 mi (400 km). In this instance a CVW of twenty-four F-35Bs would be hard pressed to provide both air defence for the CSG and strike against land targets. Type 45 destroyers providing a defensive umbrella to the CSG are more than capable of dealing with saturation attacks, but with only forty-eight Aster SAMs available per vessel countering multiple salvos of AShMs would be problematic. The most effective way of countering the threat is a CASOM strike against shore batteries of AShMs and SAMs. In the near term this could be carried out by a combination of air launched Storm Shadow missiles, the I-SSGW fired from ships and submarine launched TLAMs, replaced in the future by Perseus fired from all three platforms.
A lack of forward planning and financial commitment will severely compromise any future deployments by an RN CSG. The NAO report notes that a key component to support carrier strike, the Fleet Solid Support (FFS) ships, are not yet ordered. Despite a government commitment to restart a competition in September 2020 for the design and construction of the vessels there has been no commitment to a timeline. Along with the delays to the Crowsnest programme and with only forty-eight F-3Bs under contract, the UK appears to be going down the dangerous road once again of trying to generate a major capability on the cheap. The NAO report notes that more funds are required to ensure that a CSG has sufficient support ships and aircraft for it to be an effective force able to fulfil its stated roles.
Air power has proven to be a key component in operations both on land and on the sea. Employed competently even a small number of assets can have a disproportionate influence on the outcome of a conflict, with the Falklands war a prime example. Nevertheless, given the size and number of threats faced by the UK the current number of fighter aircraft available will be the Achilles Heel of UK future air operations. While the F-35B is gradually replacing the Harrier fleet after a gap of ten years there is no replacement for the Tornado in prospect. Any claim that increasing the Typhoon force to a total of seven squadrons by retaining twenty-four Tranche 1 aircraft, and migrating the Tornado’s capabilities to that force under Project Centurion hides the fact that the RAFs combat mass has been dramatically reduced. Moreover, the force is stretched thin with commitments to quick reaction alert (QRA) in the UK and the Falklands, air policing in the Baltics, Iceland and Romania and the bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria. With the retirement of the Tornado the RAF no longer possesses a long range strike aircraft, a requirement which could be filled by the F-35A or in the longer term the Tempest. In the interim Tranche 3A Typhoons could be upgraded to Tranche 3B configuration featuring the CAPTOR ECRS Mk 2 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. According to a 2018 House of Commons Defence Committee document, the radar was then ‘in the assessment phase.’ Main Gate investment approval was expected in the latter half of 2019. Additional features could include conformal fuel tanks and possibly Eurojet EJ-200 engines with thrust vector control (TVC). This is a cost effective measure reliant on existing technology. Many of these features will be included on the ninety Tranche 4 Eurofighters ordered by Germany; hence costs to the UK will be substantially defrayed with respect to research and development and economies of scale. The lack of a long-range strike aircraft could also be mitigated by employing a larger number of tanker aircraft, something currently hampered by the AirTanker contract.
The lack of aerial refuelling resources is a concern for all air forces, not the least the RAF. Limiting the refuelling force to Voyagers operated by the AirTanker consortium has effectively restricted the RAF’s options. None of the aircraft operated by AirTanker are boom equipped, nor is this required by the contract. This leaves the RAF with no means of air refuelling its C-17, Boeing RC-135 Airseeker, P-8A and Boeing E-7A Wedgetail aircraft. This is a total of twenty-five aircraft the RAF cannot support with its own tankers. The RC-135, P-8A and E-7 aircraft will be essential in monitoring air and sea traffic in the Gulf, Baltic region, Mediterranean and South East Asia, in addition to surveillance around the UK and in support of NATO. Given the small fleet numbers of surveillance aircraft, boom equipped Voyagers will prove to be invaluable force enablers permitting the aircraft to fly over greater distances and remain on station longer. The fact that the technology has been paid for by other countries would mean the cost to the UK would be relatively insignificant.
The constraints applied by the AirTanker contract means that the RAF cannot deploy assets wisely or employ the most suitable aircraft to fulfil a particular role. The defence of the Falkland Islands takes up a disproportionate amount of the UK’s air transport/tanker assets with single examples of the Voyager and Atlas aircraft deployed. This commitment could be reduced if the UK were to modify some C-130Js to Harvest Hawk configuration. In one airframe the RAF would have an aerial refueller, an MPA capable of long range visual and radar reconnaissance and the ability to fly attack missions using Brimstone missiles. This would be a very capable aircraft for a small outlay.
Britain has long ignored the potential for the aerial refuelling of helicopters. This has been a practice used since the 1960s by the American armed forces and is now employed by the air forces of France (Armée de l’Air – AdL’A) and Italy (Aeronautica Militare Italiana –AMI). Notably the AMI has purchased a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) variant of the Leonardo AW101, the HH-101A CAESAR. This helicopter is equipped with a probe and will be refuelled by AMI KC-130J Hercules tankers. A portent for this possibility was demonstrated at the handover on 30 May 2018 to the Commando Helicopter Force of the first Mk4 Merlin which featured a refuelling probe. Some of the twelve Merlin HM1s not converted to HM2 standard and currently in storage could be converted to this configuration. For a relatively small outlay Merlins modified to the CAESAR configuration refuelled by Harvest Hawks would provide a superlative capability not only for CSAR but could prospectively be used for Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD). Additionally, given that the emphasis in the Future Commando Force structure is on the ability to provide a flexible response rather than ‘storming the beaches’ the Hercules/Merlin combination would be ideal with the ability to react quickly to developing situations. Traditional commando assault models based around the Albion Landing Platform Dock (LPD) assault ships no longer hold, particularly given that potential adversaries both state and non-state possess considerable A2/AD capabilities.
Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) together with situational awareness (SA) will be the key to managing the battlespace. While the acquisition of nine P-8As is welcome, the force will be stretched very thin with all the commitments it is due to fulfil. The situation will only be further accentuated if a decision is taken to replace the Raytheon Sentinel R1 battlefield surveillance aircraft with the P-8A. Since 2015 the AN/APS-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor (AAS) has been flying on a small number of US Navy P-8As. Justin Bronk at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) has made the case for purchasing additional P-8As for the RAF equipped with the AAS. This is an eminently sensible suggestion, the danger is that those in Whitehall may decide to purchase the radar and fit it to a number of existing P-8As, placing a further strain on an already over-stretched fleet. A precedent for this has been set with the decision to fit the Crowsnest radar system to existing Merlin HM2s rather than expanding the fleet. It would be far more prudent to retain the Sentinels. With the ability to operate outside the A2/AD bubble the Sentinel has the ability to look far in land, a role it performed above Libya in 2011 which was described as ‘pivotal’ by the head of the RAF Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton. The Sentinels currently perform a similar role flying over the Baltic Sea identifying Russian instillations in the Kaliningrad enclave. They are fully amortised airframes which remain effective in their role and beyond the USAF’s Boeing E-8C JSTARS are the only aircraft of their type in the inventory of Western air forces.
In the future ground forces will be essential to quickly respond to rapidly developing situations. In recognition that the nature of warfare is changing the United States Marine Corps USMC is divesting itself of seven squadrons of main battle tanks, deemed too cumbersome and logistically demanding for a lighter and more agile force required for the future. The UK’s Future Commando Force reflects such thinking. Two Littoral Response Groups (LRGs) are being formed, one based in Bahrain focused on areas East of Suez to be deployed in mid-2021, while the other UK based group will concentrate on NATO’s northern flank and the Mediterranean. The three Bay class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) (LDS [A]) ships will be the initial hosts for the two groups. Flexible, rapid reaction groups will rely on cargo aircraft and helicopters. As noted above, air-refuelled helicopters would provide the best option for both mobility and rapid reinforcement.
Despite this concentration on light mobile forces, going forward the main battle tank will still have its place in modern warfare. The Baltic states feel particularly vulnerable to Russian aggression having witnessed the rapidity in which the Crimea was invaded. The UK continues to demonstrate its commitment to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by regular Typhoon deployments for air policing and committing to annual Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) naval exercises. Exercise Baltic Protector 2019 was a UK-led Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF) Maritime Task Group deployment of around 3,000 personnel and 20 vessels from JEF partner nations. This exercise included the deployment of a Challenger 2 tank from HMS Albion. Currently the army has two hundred and twenty-seven Challenger 2 tanks in its inventory. The planned Challenger Life Extension Programme (LEP) will see only a reported one hundred and forty-eight upgraded. The LEP has been designed around obsolescence management, but the army now appears to favour a more comprehensive proposal from Rheinmettal. This includes new armour and a brand new turret incorporating the company’s L55 smoothbore 120mm cannon, the latter ensuring commonality with all other NATO members. On July 31 2020 Rheinmettal unveiled a radically upgraded Challenger 2 demonstrator equipped with a 130mm/L51 smoothbore cannon and upgraded armour. This tank would be capable of defeating the latest Russian tank, the T-14 Armata. BAES is proposing an upgraded tank, the ‘Black Knight’ which retains the existing L30 120mm rifled cannon. Whichever proposal is chosen remanufacture will occur in Telford at a plant jointly owned by RBSL (Rheinmetall BAE Systems Land) facility.
As rumours mount with respect to the forthcoming defence review, by late August 2020 the BBC and other media outlets were reporting that instead of upgrading the Challenger one option being considered is scrapping the entire Challenger fleet. The Defence Secretary has stated his preference going forward for a concentration on a move from ‘Industrial Age to Information Age capabilities – investing in cyber, space, electronic warfare, AI, robotics and autonomy’. This view ignores the reality that nothing can replace the capabilities and firepower brought to the battlefield by a tank. The Challenger is an old design, but that does not mean it is obsolete, and with the upgrades described above can be a creditable weapon system into the future. It should not be overlooked that in the first Gulf War a Challenger made the longest ever tank kill in history over a range of 5,100m (3 miles) with a Depleted Uranium (DU) round. In the same conflict over two hundred Iraqi tanks were destroyed without loss. Predator unmanned aerial vehicles and Apache attack helicopters can destroy enemy tanks, equipment and positions, however it is only a Strike Brigade consisting of Ajax, Boxer, upgraded Warrior together with Challengers that will be able to successfully attack and hold a position. A tank’s presence on the battlefield cannot be matched be any other weapon and hence the Challenger LEP should be considered a cornerstone of the UK’s future military capabilities.
Given the Future Commando Force concept replacing the Albion class landing platform docks (LPDs) with vessels more fit for purpose would appear a sensible option. Formed around the concepts of quick response and flexibility, the force would be best served by the provision of air mobility, and going forward there are plans for the allocation of air assets. One option to provide air mobility is to purchase the Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey. At £57.5M ($72M USD) per copy this is a very expensive aircraft, but the capabilities offered are not matched by any other aeroplane. Being air-refuellable it can self-deploy over long distances, an invaluable feature when inserting commandos to counter rapidly developing situations. It can also refuel other aircraft via the V-22 Aerial Refuelling System (VARS). This would be particularly valuable with respect to extending the combat radius of the F-35B when operating from the QEC carriers. The V-22 is also able to provide COD and offer capabilities which would supplement the FFSs or even mean that only two vessels may need to be purchased. Deletion of this vessel from the ship building programme and the two Albion class from the fleet should be replaced by at least two LPDs with extended aviation facilities featuring a full length flight deck, and a well deck. These would not only provide excellent bases for the LRGs, but also given that helicopter/V-22 commando assault will be the preferred option in the face of A2/AD threats they would provide more landing spots than the current LPDs. Possessing a well deck these LPDs would possess the option of supporting traditional amphibious operations.
The Landing Platform Helicopter (LPH) ship HMS Ocean and the French LPD FS Tonnerre proved invaluable in the 2011 Libyan intervention. Operating in the littoral out of range of Libyan shore batteries the ships launched Apache and Airbus Tiger attack helicopters against high value targets. Built to commercial standards LPHs can be built quickly and cost a relatively small amount. The cost of construction of HMS Ocean for example was £154 million, equating to £316 million in 2019. Additionally, urgent consideration needs to be given to replacement of the aviation training ship RFA Argus which leaves service in 2024. Replacing her with a more capable LPH/LPD of the same design replacing the Albion class would further extend the RN’s assault ship capabilities. The argument for constructing LPDs is further reinforced by the fact that in a cost saving measure no provision has been made for HMS Prince of Wales to act as an LPH, hence a replacement for HMS Ocean has become somewhat of a priority.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
With Britain and her allies facing an even more uncertain future with respect to their security, now is the time to make decisions which will ensure that there is sufficient equipment available for the UK to fulfil her defence responsibilities. The possible dangers to the Britain’s security will need to be met robustly, but such a response can only occur with adequate armed forces both in terms of numbers of personnel and equipment. Despite sensationalist figures quoted in the press that between 2019 and 2029 the funding of defence equipment faces a shortfall of £13.0bn, this is upper estimate calculated by the National Audit Office (NAO). By way of comparison the estimated cost blowout of the Crossrail project is £3.5B and an estimated overspend on HS2 of £18B. Slashing government spending and austerity is a discredited means of addressing economic difficulties as ascertained in 2010. A nation cannot ‘go broke’ and in these times when money is cheap many economists would advise that borrowing is a prudential measure to move forward out of recession. Defence expenditure is not dead money. Government expenditure allows industries to develop, new technologies to progress, generates new jobs and provides tax receipts to the exchequer. Over ninety percent of the programmes suggested above are of British origin, or would involve UK companies modifying or installing equipment sourced from overseas, hence foreign reserves are not drained. The UK should emulate France which is spending €15 billion to support its aerospace industry recognising that sales of aircraft worth billions of Euros will help reduce the trade deficit. Moreover, defence companies can provide support to the civil authorities by applying their knowledge of advanced technologies. The national response to COVID 19 for example would not have been as comprehensive without support provided to the NHS by the armed services and companies such as Rolls Royce, GKN and Airbus.
Russian and Chinese hegemony can only be countered by substantial conventional forces, with Britain taking a central role in any coalition, and at times taking leadership of countries with coalescing standpoints. The principal advisor to Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings has opined that there should an emphasis on artificial intelligence and drone technology as opposed to traditional defence equipment. Such a view does not take into consideration that every conflict since WWII has been fought using traditional military equipment. Mr Cummings further demonstrated his serious lack of knowledge of defence matters when he commented that the QEC class programme was a farce which ‘continued to squander billions of pounds’. Mr Cummings views should not prevail in the 2021 SDSR.
The defence review is an opportunity for the current government to signal how a global Britain is to take its place in the world. Inevitably this must be based on strong trading relationships as well as building affiliations with like-minded democracies, and committing itself to both of these ideals built around a strong defence policy.
This can be achieved through relatively small financial outlays, maximising the resources currently available through value adding capabilities and careful planning avoiding unnecessary wastage.
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 This is the quoted range for the air launched and ship launched AShM variant. For land attack it would in all probability have its range extended to 1000+ km. This is exactly the path taken by MBDA in developing the MdCN from the Storm Shadow/SCALP.
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