Lord West of Spithead, a Former First Sea Lord, has argued that Britain’s security and prosperity requires amphibious capability.

Writing in Politics Home, the former naval chief argues for the retention of the vessels that rumours say may be axed.

He states:

“Under fire particularly, it seems, is our invaluable amphibious capability. So what exactly is this amphibious capability? Britain’s security and prosperity requires unimpeded maritime access and transit. As an island nation, the country needs a broadly maritime strategy – one that has sea control at its core, but which enables power and influence to be projected inland.

Indeed, being an island, all operations beyond our shores are expeditionary and demand theatre entry. Strike carriers and amphibious forces are the enablers for this theatre entry capability. The true fighting power of a navy is its ability to ensure entry around the world using carrier air and amphibious forces and to cause sea denial using carrier air and SSNs.

Since 1945 this entry capability has been used over 10 times including Korea, Suez, Kuwait (1962) pre-empting Iraqi planned invasion, Brunei, Falkland Islands, Sierra Leone and the Al Faw. And the Royal Marines have been in almost continuous operations consisting of 30 different campaigns.”

It was recently reported by multiple sources that Brazil and Chile have been given notice of “potential availability” of Royal Navy warships.

Most notably reported by IHS Jane’s Navy International, it has been claimed by the outlet that Brazil and Chile have “quietly been given notice of the potential availability of RN frigates and amphibious ships”.

Janes report that UK officials have “discreetly advised” that some of the frigate fleet in addition to the two Albion class landing platform docks could become available due to budget cuts.

Even the Americans have weighed in on the matter with Colonel Dan Sullivan reportedly saying cuts to the Royal Marines and the loss of two amphibious assault ships could impact the defence relationship between the US and UK.

The Ministry of Defence is reportedly examining options aimed at  the manpower available to the Royal Marines or cutting HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion.

The Times reported him as saying:

“My message is to articulate how important having that capability in our partner is and how damaging I think it would be if our most important coalition partner potentially takes the hits that are projected right now.

If you want to be decisive you have to be able to project power ashore at some point. From a military standpoint as the UK continues to diminish and as the Royal Marines in particular take a hit, I think that our view of what we will be able to do together in the future changes.”

This also comes as multiple ministers, MP’s and other officials continue to insist the Royal Navy is growing, even in the face of upcoming cuts.

Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said in Parliament that “a growing defence budget means more ships, more planes, more armoured vehicles and more cutting edge equipment for our forces”.

The Defence Secretary also said it again after announcing the naming of a new frigate in Belfast:

“Thanks to our ambitious new National Shipbuilding Strategy, this shipyard once again has the chance to be involved in building a British warship thanks to the competition to build a new class of light frigates for our growing Royal Navy.

Again as part of another announcement:

“This new approach will lead to more cutting-edge ships for the growing Royal Navythat will be designed to maximise exports and be attractive to navies around the world.”

I could fill this article with quotes from Fallon and other ministers claiming that the Royal Navy is growing, but you get the idea.

This isn’t true according to the the UK Armed Forces Equipment and Formations document released by the Government detailing statistics on vessels, land equipment and aircraft of the armed forces. It states:

“At 1 April 2017 there were 73 vessels in the UK Armed Forces: 64 vessels in the Royal Navy and nine in the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). This is a reduction of three vessels since 2016 following the withdrawal of three RFA vessels: two Small Fleet Tankers and one Forward Repair Ship (RFA Diligence).

Patrol Ships (18 Inshore and four Offshore) make up the largest proportion of Royal Navy vessels, with 22, as shown in Chart 1 below.

The total number of Destroyers and Frigates (19) as at 1 April 2017 are also in line with SDSR Joint Force 2025 commitments.”

Further, according to the Defence Select Committee, the UK has a “woefully low” number of warships. Chair of the committee Dr Julian Lewis advised earlier in the year that the Government risked leaving the country with fewer than 19 frigates and destroyers.

“The United Kingdom will then lack the maritime strength to deal with the threats we face right now, let alone in the future. We are putting the MoD on notice that it must not let this happen.”

Additionally, Sir John Parker the author of an independent report on the National Shipbuilding Strategy, has indicated that the frigate fleet will fall below 13 frigates unless the Type 31 Frigate build starts soon, something that appears unlikely for a project described by a minister this month as still in “early pre-concept phase” with no design having yet been chosen.

Julian Lewis asked during a Defence Select Committee session on the National Shipbuilding Strategy:

“So what you are saying—and this is a critical point—is that unless we start building the Type 31e frigates in parallel with the Type 26s, there is little chance of not reducing below our existing figure of 13 frigates all told.”

Sir John Parker responded with one word:

“Correct.”

57 COMMENTS

  1. He’s right.

    For me the RN should prioritise 4 areas, all else is secondary.

    Carriers /FAA Aviation. Power Projection ashore / Sea Denial
    Amphibious Ships / RM. Power Projection ashore.
    RFA. Helping with both of above.
    Nuclear Submarines. Sea Denial and Deterrent.

    Before people accuse me of fantasy fleets, we have all the above already.

    For these areas to be well resourced and maintained I’d accept a change in balance from an all high end fleet to a mix of high end and a fleet of 2nd tier ships the RN has had few of.

    This not only saves some money but tries to address the endless reduction in numbers.

    T23/45/26 assigned exclusively to the CBG, Amphibs and Deterrent protection in conjunction with P8’s of the RAF.

    Rivers/T31 used elsewhere, maybe in conjunction with RFA ships acting as “motherships” like the Black Swan concept highlighted by Paul P and link here –

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/33686/20120503JCN112_Black_SwanU.pdf

  2. you could not make it up Here we have a debate over the albion class and also reducing the royal marines but yet the idiot that is Fallon keeps saying the same thing over and over (a growing defence budget for more ships blah blah) so Mr Fallon care to explain on why defence is being cut,or are you taking a cut of the budget for your own pocket….

    • Don’t be so ridiculous. I swear the standard of debate here with some is going down the toilet. Sorry, did I say debate.

      • The anger though is understandable Geoff. I was deeply depressed myself in 2010 after 13 years of defence cuts and pc crap from Labour. Tories got in and I thought they’d do away with all that and improve mstters.
        Then came SDSR 2010. Oh my God.
        Silly things are said on this forum and others but I fully understand the frustrations.

        • One way to protect the UK military is for it to become more imaginative in ways of raising its own cash streams. I for one, would like to see the National Lottery price raised by 50 pence, and that extra going directly to national security. A percentage of each win above £2000 being automatically deducted say 1.0% and sums above £1,000,000 getting a guaranteed £10,000 donation. If this is not palatable, the MOD should create a lottery of their own, which would see all profits absorbed into the services. Expanding the NAFFI into a general public chain of stores could also be one avenue to consider. Transforming some base assets into hotels and adventure parks, with commensurate levels of security for off-limit areas. The MOD has many active training grounds which could offer miles of off-highway driving experiences. The possibilities are endless and should be seriously considered.
          Sponsorship of service personnel could be another avenue. Such a scheme would be popular especially with ex-service members.
          Though these earning would be modest, it’s preferable to single sourcing a budget from HMG and constantly undergoing budget review. Obviously, the government defense budget should not be adjusted against MOD independent earnings, they should always be retained at a realistic level.

          The constant drawdown of our defense capabilities is very depressing, as the men and women in grey suits with a scant understanding of defense matters, continue the medal with the MOD budget year in year out. Whatever it takes, the MOD needs to create additional income, which would not be diluted into other government departments. Modest self-financing is not inconceivable, is it?

          • Now this is really something to consider.
            Top post in my humble opinion.

            Maybe McDonald’s could sponcer a battalion? I can see the M on their helmets now….
            All joking aside some interesting ideas there Rover.

          • Respectfully I think that’s a stupid idea. Defence spending should come out of direct taxation. What are you going to do if Societies poorest finally wake up and realise that now they are not only subsidising the national opera for London’s high society but also the defence of the bloody country and stop playing the damned thing?

    • Andy, if there are cuts the fall the value of the Pound since the Brexit referendum is the main cause (as far as I know), which has increased the cost of buying things like the F35 & Poseidon.

      • The fall in the £ value is due to it being slightly overvalued and due for a correction which it always recovers from. As far as how that effects the defense budget their are arguments for and against that. See Japan and China with deliberately undervalued currency.

  3. Given we are winding down from our long standing commitments in mainland Europe and bringing back the BEF to these shores I think it is entirely logical that the emphasis should be on Expeditionary Warfare and homeland defence/standing commitments.

    I also think we do need to ensure that we can sustain a war effort through our manufacturing base as this is in our national interests (irrelevant of cost actually).

    Whilst I won’t go on about equipment I do think the UK and its government, parliament and all parties need to have a consensus on what the UK’s aspirations are on the international stage and how best we achieve those goals. Whatever is agreed needs cross party support and oversight and a commitment to proper funding.

    This is important as very few roles in our country actually put you at risk of death on a regular basis and we need to ensure that our appetite isn’t bigger than our capability.

    For the MOD part of the bargain – Wholesale changes are required and I would say 8-12 super bases is enough for the UK with all other land being disposed of. I would even perhaps look at specialised training areas in other countries as well to ensure we have terrain appropriate access (instead of wet and muddy). We already use Belize, Kenya and Canada for training amongst others and perhaps this needs to be formalised even further.

    Lastly – we really do need a single force structure and a massive re-organisation of badges etc so that we have all assets working in tandem – in my view across 4 deployable divisions with a further 2 Carrier Battle Groups and a core HQ/Logistics Division. Done properly this will give us 16 Combat Brigades and the means to support them with everything from logistics to helicopters and jets – all aligned to the ground troop or carrier groups.

    Big change – but the MOD cannot continue with an organisation based upon what happened in WW2.

    • While I agree we need a major re structure, we need the three distinct services. But yes four regular division would be nice. Two heavy, One strike division and one large light division.

    • 8 to 12 bases! With all other land disposed of? What are you going to put in these bases? It is impossible and unrealistic. They’d each be gigantic!
      Far far too few. You’d break the budget with the costs of moving organisations and facilities into them for starters.
      Are you including training, logistics, support sites? Do you include the sites of Joint Forces Command? Or Mod central staffs?
      Even with the cuts and the recently released mod bases plan we will require hundreds of sites still.
      At present the RN alone has 3 naval bases, 2 main training establishments, and 2 Royal Naval Air Stations. That’s after 20 years of cuts and doesn’t include other minor sites, Whale Island or the Royal Marines facilities.

      Supporting our nuclear deterrent alone uses 3 major sites excluding C3 and others.

      The RAF alone has over a dozen main operating bases.

      The Army is moving it’s units into larger super garrisons but will still need around 30 sites alone.

      And I’m not even counting the hundreds of sites used for training, stores, Defence Munitions sites, and the many ASCS radar and ISS comms sites that are scattered around the uk.

      Defence and the wider Mod is more than just the 3 services.

      Sorry Pacman I agree with much of what you say regarding efficiency and reducing duplication but reducing to 8 to 12 bases for the entire uk military is not possible, realistic or even desirable.

      • I would have to agree with Daniele on the 12 bases. As far as I know only the US Army uses “super base” concept and it only gets away with it cause they bought or were “given” the land after the Civil War or the Westward Expansion. In addition only about 15 to 20 I would consider that huge. Even with these advantages some took a century reach their size. Building them in just a few years would bankrupt the US much less the UK. The main advantage of them is several Bliss, Hood, and Benning can support Corps level exercises. Which isn’t something the UK needs.

        • OK Gents – I accept your feedback but….

          Catterick, Salisbury, Thetford, Otterburn, Sennybridge and some of the training areas in Scotland and the West Country.

          We kind of have the makings of several large super bases already. With the USAF giving up mildenhall that presents a great opportunity for the Thetford TA to become a great super base.

          Whilst it may be a stretch to get us down to anywhere near 12 bases I think we already have a number that are on the way already.

          It doesn’t have to happen over night – but long term I think it needs to happen and perhaps some of these super bases would not be in the UK as mentioned to provide terrain specific training and forward basing.

          But I do accept your point – probably got a bit ahead of myself on this one

          • No problem mate. 🙂
            You are bang on re RAF Mildenhall and STANTA. Hope MoD uses it when USAF withdraw. I read elsewhere of problems with the electrics in using these old USAF sites?

            Catterick Garrison is being expanded with more units moving in so yes.
            Same with SPTA with Bulford, Warminster, Tidworth Perham and Ludgershall. This area is already called a Super Garrison by the army.

            Sennybridge ( SENTA ) and Otterburn while large have little in the way of facilities, and Sennybridge Camp is small, so they would need some considerable investment.

            My personal opinion is the MoD should use surplus RAF sites with a runway to allow instant deployment to theatre.
            The army has made use of several RAF sites which are now garrisons so I’d like to see this trend continue.

            As an example. RAF Lyneham could have been used for something more important than the REME HQ and School? Close to SPTA too.

    • Graham. The Navy does actually need OPVs. The Navy and the country as a whole badly lack offshore patrol vessels. They can be used to take up roles that frigates are overly qualified to do, freeing them up for other work.

      What the navy does not want or need is a type 31 that does the same role as a OPV without been able to do anything higher. Leaving us with a lower number of warfighting vessels.

      • In my opinion we are going there anyway Ben.
        If ships are now a billion pounds each the RN has no choice but to introduce lower spec ships to try to keep some sort of critical mass.
        I’m all for the type 31 myself.
        The lower number of high end ships can be mitigated by using them where they are needed., with our high end assets.

        The alternative is to give up on being a first ranked military or increase the budget to the tune of billions. Neither I believe will happen.

        • Yes I agree. The problem is that the type 31 currently is looking like a slightly upgunned OPV, they are supposed to be a mid range ship between the high end type 26/45 and the lower end OPVs.

          They will be able to perform the lower end duties the same as a OPV but none of the higher end duties. We either make them capable or scrap them all together, otherwise they are just a waste of space. Better to buy a couple more OPVs. The £250m price point is ridiculous for such a vessel, in the next 5-10 years the French Navy is going to have a far superior escort fleet than us.

          • Bit more than an OPV I think. In length 114 to 120 metres compared to 90 metres, beam 18m compared to 13m, maybe 4,000 tonnes compared to 2,000 tonnes, one or two knots faster, complement probably double, and upgunned, wth a hangar.

          • Yes. But still fulfilling essentially the same role.

            There are currently no plans to equip the type 31 with an anti-ship capacity, the anti-submarine capacity is questionable, considering they may not equip the ships with hull mounted sonar, leaving it purely to an embarked helicopter. The anti-air capacity is also questionable, they are considering fitting it with a Phalanx only, and capable of but not fitted with CAMM. This does not even give the ship the same level capacity of most middle-eastern corvettes. Then you get to the part where they are only building part of the ship to military specs, the majority left to civilian standards. Making it an under armed, under equipped vessel than performs the same duties as a OPV.

            We can forget the export market for this vessel, considering there are several countries with far more capable vessels. The £250m price point for even a light frigate is a joke.

          • Very possibly Ben, it’s a very competitive market for frigates, specially “just” general purpose ones. But the original intention for building 13 T26 was to have 8 as ASW fleet escorts, and the other 5 GPFFs built on a possibly modified T25 hull, to that requirement hasn’t changed, just the way of achieving it.

            Perhaps with the full 13 T26 split 8 + 5, that would have definitely been and end to it, whereas with the T31e, there may be more than the 5, that would be a justification for the change from the T26 for the GPFF design.

          • By cutting 5x Type 26s, we are making a saving of at least £5 Billion. 5x Type 31s cost £1.25 Billion, yet all 5 together will only be as capable as 1x Type 26. This would not be so bad if the plan was to build 10-20 of them, but as far as it looks at the moment we can only expect 1-2 extra hulls.

    • Agree. Though I agree with much of Pacmans plans I don’t agree with his totals at the end. 4 divisions in old money is 12 deployable brigades. We currently are reorganizing into 5, not one of which is fully supported.

      • We have enough to comfortable form 3 divisions. Two heavy and one largish light divisions. Just need to recognise and re equip.

        • Re equip being the operative word!
          We really don’t have enough to form 4 divisions!
          Last time we had 4 divisions was in the 1980s in BAOR.

          We have enough infantry battalions on paper to form several divisions yes. Divisions on paper only as we lack the Combat Support and Combat Service Support arms to complement those battalions to make them effective deployable formations.

          As it is. The British army’s 5 deployable brigades will be incomplete as things stand.

          The enablers- Royal signals regiments, royal artillery regiments, royal engineers, Reme, RLC, RAMC and the like do not exist to form 4 divisions.

          They exist enough to support the 4 main deployable brigades. Not 4 divisions.

          Others are held in Force Troops command.

          If the army managed to get 5 fully equipped brigades in its reaction force I would be happy.

          As for 4 divisions it is fantasy.

          • Yup. Even with current plans we will only have 1 deployable division of two armoured infantry brigades and a strike brigade by 2025.

    • I think we can deploy 4 divisions (each with 4 combat brigades), but it does need radical thinking. A Battalion is circa 750 people ad a Brigade is 5 Battalions so 3750 per brigade x 4 = 15000 to a division + 1CnC battalion = 15750 (approximately).

      This also requires the RM to be integrated into the Land Force as a complete Division (perhaps with the rifles or Paras). This gives us a fighting force of 63000. The rest (circa 30k) would go into a core logistics, medics etc Corp that would be assigned as necessary, I would also align Air and naval asset to the divisions and add 2 separate Naval Divisions (CBG’s), making a 6 Division structure + a massive core support Corps.

      Each Division would have a Brigade in each of the following states of readiness, 1 High Readiness, 1Training up, 1 Winding down and 1 on Low Readiness/ R&R.

      We then give them good leaders and have them in constant competition with each other to be the best.

      A Division may look like

      1 Brigade Commando
      1 Brigade Light Infantry
      2 Brigade Mech / Heavy Armour
      1 Battalion CnC and Logistics.
      Other assets from HQ Core as required.

      This will allow us to have 2 year rotations indefinitely (6month rotations) and also gives us Corps of Light infantry, Commando and Mech/Heavy Armour (matrix division).

      I am thinking out of the box but actually this is what is needed – stand alone divisions with there own helicopters, combat aircraft, tanks etc under a leader.

      Essentially lets go back to what Monty did with the 8th Army, make the Division tougher, more resilient and let the generals fight it out for the equipment.

        • Ok. Would be amazing to have this. But…

          Each Brigade would typically require –

          1 Logistics Regiment.
          1 REME Battalion.
          1 Medical Regiment.
          1 Engineer Regiment.
          1 Artillery Regiment.
          1 RMP Coy.
          1 Multi Role Signal Regiment.

          That is the support that our Armoured Infantry Brigades have at present, although these assets are not directly assigned but are held under Force Troops Command for some weird reason. These assets used to be directly assigned, along with a Brigade Signal Squadron.
          Our Strike Brigades being formed require similar support assets.

          The supporting elements of 3 Commando Brigade are considerably less.
          The supporting elements of 16 Air Assault Brigade have also been diminished, although the regiments themselves are still there, their component Companies and Squadrons have been raided in 2010 SDSR and 2015 SDSR.

          My question is. Where are these units coming from to support 16 Brigades as you suggest? At present for example the Royal Artillery has, in the regulars, 6 Regiments with guns. Six.

          Where is the money or manpower to create 10 more Royal Artillery Regiments?!
          And multiply this by each of the supporting services above?

          The wider 80000 man army also has a large portion of its strength in ATRD ( Army Training Recruitment Division ) various HQ directorates and assigned to other areas of the armed forces such as DSF and MoD.

  4. Basically speaking the RN is being set up for 50 years, and that could be a very changed world. It could for instance have fragmented into a lot more smaller countries, all competing sometimes with force. Then you look at the globe, and the big blue bit, with all those islands and coastlines capable, the way warfare goes, of having missile entrenchemtns, even big guns or lasers.

    To get control of them, or neutralise them, with their solid air and sea defence, so you can continue to sail the big blue yonder and bring back tea bags for my cuppa, what do you do? Send in the marines.

  5. To be fair there are not too many countries in Europe that could even deploy a division long distance so at least the UK will be able to do that. If the UK ever needed to deploy a division size force over seas again it would be amongst other allied countries namely NATO.. So i think the UK would be doing it’s bit.

    • Exactly! This is what I keep trying to emphasise. We are way ahead of most other nations in so many capabilities. There are many problem areas, firstly with our own government and treasury, but one must always compare to other nations. I feel too many only despair at the negatives and ignore the positives. I like to consider things in balance.

  6. I think there are three or four of us here, maybe more, who are coming to a similar conclusion and it reminds me from a navy point of view of Napoleonic times. For the o p v’s imagine the cutters and brigs; for the 31’s the sloops and smaller frigates of the day and here come the men ‘o war- the carriers and their escorts. Mind you, factoring in fifth generation fighters and helicopters is a bit tricky! Our navy was respected then and it is now, although it’s very different. One of Nelson’s constant complaints…not enough frigates to go round!
    The point, though, as Danile and pacman and dadsarmy have said we are at a junction and if there was ever a time to finally get it right after many years of what I think is technically called p…..g about now is it. We are not finished. We have a modern navy and air force and an army re-equipping.
    LETS BACK THE PEOPLE WHO REALLY MATTER.

    • Couldn’t agree more – an Dif I ever come across as being negative – please feel free to have a go at me..

      I think we have a sizeable budget that is wasted on a lot of non core items – for me the emphasis should be on our people, their welfare (inc.families) and equipment.

      Politicians have had a big appetite where our military are concerned, but don’t want to pay the bill and that needs addressing.

      I hope many of my comments are offering solutions to fix things and not just having a moan as I am very proud of our armed forces.

  7. West at it again…now he wants his cake and to eat it.
    It was on his watch that the Sea Lords sold out the fleet for Carrier Strike.
    It was on his watch that it was decided that cuts in the surface fleet would be OK to fund the carriers(His pet project)

    Funny that he never mentions that…

    • He is not my favorite of the batch of morons in Parliament but to be fair I don’t think Lord West could have anticipated SDSR 2010.

  8. Selling off bases etc is small money and it quickly disappears into the bottomless pit that is MOD equipment procurement. The Conservatives have already sold anything worth selling to their property-developing chums, they couldn’t wait to flog off the Duke of York’s barracks in Kings Road, the Guards barracks in Chelsea Bridge Road, the Scottish HQ at Kirkliston, the Redwood barracks in Edinburgh… the entire defence estate has already been plundered. When – it will not be if – we need to mobilise and train new wartime forces, the barracks and training areas will be distant memories and the size of the task correspondingly formidable.

    It is akin to selling off school playing fields to balance the books for the year. Once gone, they won’t be coming back due to land prices, so you’ve just sold off the (inherited) family silver and can look forward to generations of plump little unsporty kids. (cf plump little unfighty OPVs).

    The answer to the endless defence cuts lies elsewhere. As none of the political parties show any interest in increasing the defence vote and all of them are happy to raid defence to fund their pork-barrel voter offerings, the answer has to be more drastic.

    The single thing that is completely torpedoing the budget is the £20 bn+ cost of new Trident and the Vanguard subs. Now it has been slid into the defence budget, thanks to Osbourne and the Tories in 2010, everything else is going to have to be cut back hard for 15 years to pay for it.

    The best answer the Chiefs of Staff could give is: Having an independent nuclear deterrent is the best means of discouraging nuclear-equipped opponents, if it can be afforded. In light of the increasing cost-pressures on the services’ budget, leading to ever more personnel cuts and reductions in warships, combat aircraft and land forces, we have reluctantly come to the conclusion that Trident replacement is no longer affordable or the best use of the services budget. If the procurement costs were to be funded from the Treasury’s contingency budget, as was always the case until 2010, that would change things, but that option is not on offer. We therefore recommend that, from a military viewpoint, further expenditure on Trident replacement be halted and that the savings be employed in increasing the number and capability of our personnel and conventional equipment.

    That would put the cat among the pigeons! The Chiefs and Defence SoS would need to be prepared to fall on their swords of course, but such is principle. There are only 8 countries with ballistic nuclear missiles and, despite our illusions of grandeur, we cannot any more afford to be one of them. So put the ball back in the Government’s court, Trident is largely a political virility symbol, let them pay for it from the contingency or face a serious national debate about defence in the real world beyond SDSR smoke and mirrors.

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