Thursday, 31 May 2012

Gulf Minecountermeasure Squadron Update - the Minehunters ATHERSTONE and SHOREHAM have sailed for Gulf for three year deployments working out of Bahrain.     En route the two ships will operate together in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, giving support to a multinational task force providing security in the troubled waters.   The ATHERSTONE and SHOREHAM are to replace two (2) of the four (4) Minecountermeasure vessels currently on station.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

DYNAMIC MONGOOSE 12 – A New Anti-Submarine Warfare Exercise NATO carried out a new exercise off the coast of Norway and involve four submarines (4), aircraft (11) and four (4) surface from seven NATO members.     The objective is to provide the best anti-submarine warfare training to NATO naval forces and to guarantee their interoperability in a multi-national environment.       Germany, the Netherlands and Norway provided the conventionally powered submarines with each being either in a either ‘hunting’ or in a ‘hunted’ situation.   The surface warships came from France, Germany and Norway under the tactical command of the Norwegian frigate HNoMS FRIDTJOF NANSEN.

Maritime Patrol Aircraft were provided by Canada, France, Germany and Norway and the Anti-Submarine Helicopters were provided by Poland, France and the United Kingdom operating from air bases in Sola (Norway) and Nordholz (Germany). The exercise was directed from the NATO Maritime Headquarter in Northwood, (United Kingdom) by NATO's Commander Submarines North (COMSUBNORTH) and Commander Maritime Air (COMMARAIR).

Monday, 28 May 2012

Atlantic Patrol (North) In a New Form – With destroyers and frigates at something of a premium (a polite way of saying we do not have enough) the Aviation Training Ship RFA ARGUS has deployed and is currently en route to North America to get ready for the hurricane season.  Embarked are a team from the Maritime Aviation Support Force from Culdrose and a Royal Marine contingent is also onboard.   The ship’s company has been further enhanced with the addition of a recently formed Humanitarian and Disaster Relief team  and has a single (?) LYNX helicopter is embarked, and also a large amount of disaster relief stores are onboard.

The concept of the 250 strong Maritime Aviation Support Force is to provide a simple “one stop shop” to meet personnel requirements and provide the aviation specialists essential to support naval aviation operations from ships and land bases anywhere in the world.     The RFA ARGUS is one of the ship’s that usually has a Maritime Aviation Support team embarked. The Maritime Aviation Support Force covers Flight Deck activities, Logistic and Catering Support, Operations, Engineering Support, even medical assistance, are all part of the specialist services provided and tailored teams, from two to over fifty personnel, of flight deck crews, fire fighters, meteorologists, physical trainers, military policemen, survival specialists, aircraft controllers, logisticians, engineers, medics and many other specialists to allow the continued operation of naval aircraft worldwide.    Future plans will include Intelligence Officers, dentists, chaplains and others as required.

The RFA ARGUS is presumably being deployed to relieve the Stores Ship RFA FORT ROSALIE.   Apart from being in the right place for the Caribbean hurricane season the RFA ARGUS will also take part in multinational exercises and celebrations commemorating the 1812 War of Independence in the USA en route to the Caribbean.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

A Scottish Navy – no longer something that should be discounted but of course they have one already in the form of the fishery research ship SCOTIA (1999), and the three (3) marine protection vessels – the MINNA (2003), JURA (2005) and HIRTA (2008).    If you accept that 8½% is the division used for the National Assets that pass to Scotland on independence then a simple mathematical calculation results, bearing in mind the likely non nuclear stance of a future Scottish Government controlled by the Scottish National Party.   The figures look like this:
                                                                                   UK                 Scottish
                                                                                  Total              Allocation
Nuclear Powered Strategic Submarines:                            4                      .34%
Nuclear Powered Fleet Submarines:                                  7                      .59%
Capital Ships (Carriers/Assault Ships/Helicopter Carrier:  5                      .42%
Destroyers and Frigates:                                               19                     1.61%
Survey Ships:                                                                3                      .25%
Royal Fleet Auxiliaries (say):                                          12                     1.02%
Minecountermeasure Vessels:                                          15                     1.27%
Archer Class Coastal Patrol Boats:                                  16                     1.36%

So on the face of it the Royal Navy would lose say two (2) frigates, a Royal Fleet Auxiliary (1) and three (3)  smaller vessels which would be a valid negotiating position, and a sustainable loss one might say.

The real issue would be the future of the Faslane Naval Base and its attendant Armament Depot at Coulport which no doubt would be a thorny political issue.    In truth however there is not a real problem.   The submarines based at Faslane are not alongside for much of the time and could easily depart for Devonport and Portsmouth and work from there.   Both locations are “cleared” for nuclear submarine operations.    Maintenance can (and is) done at Devonport and quite easily one imagines that function could transfer there.   There is a ship lift at Barrow, where our submarines are built as an alternative option.   The nuclear warheads are already maintained at the Aldermaston/Burghfield complex tucked away in the “home counties” and moved to and from Scotland without problem, and could be sent elsewhere if needed.   We do not actually own any of the TRIDENT missiles, as we lease them from a pooled fleet with the Americans, and they come from a central maintenance base at King’s Bay (Georgia) and merely transit Coulport.

The new “Valiant Submarine Jetty” at Faslane is a portable asset. being a floating structure.   This facility is due to be completed in December 2012, (more than four years late at maximum contracted price of £ 134 million - now quoted at some £ 226 million with AMEC, the contractor responsible only for the first £ 50 million).  Also there is ongoing a £ 31.7 million refurbishment of the nearby Explosives Handling Jetty at the Armament Depot at Coulport (near Faslane) which is on target to be completed six months ahead of schedule, in December 2012.    

Presumably if push comes to shove the submarines would sail away from Faslane, the missiles and warheads stored at Coulport could be disbursed to Aldermaston/Burghfield or King’s Bay (Georgia), whilst alternative facilities were established.       The Valiant Submarine Jetty” could be towed away to an English or Welsh deepwater location and in addition to Devonport and Portsmouth places such as Falmouth and Milford Haven could be considered.   The French and Americans would surely assist and would have a very direct interest in the British being able to maintain their deterrent patrols.    For that matter in the world of new Entente Cordiale what is to stop “our” strategic submarines working alongside our allies, from their French base at Île Longue near Brest.   For the Scottish Nationalists the removal of the “British” from Faslane is not much of a trump card in any negotiation as the Royal Navy could simply sail away and do what it has always done, and find a way round any problem!
Aircraft Carrier Deck Scare – the media had a high old time with a story that the “new” jump jets may melt the decks of aircraft carriers – following tests which found the fumes which blast out of the Joint Strike Fighters when they land damage the ships’ decks.     Now the UK will require an American new super tough, heat resistant deck coating – when it is developed!!    More Costs ?

ENTERPRISE Home – the movements of the ships of the Survey Squadron often attract little interest even by the MoD – Did you know that after a five (5) month deployment in the South Atlantic the ENTERISE launched straight into Exercise Joint Warrior with just a short period alongside to replenish stores!
Do the Liberal Democrats Know ? – The MoD has let contracts worth £350m have been awarded today to UK companies to design the next generation of nuclear deterrent submarines.    The first Successor Submarine is due to be delivered in 2028, and start replacing the VANGUARD Class submarines.    Although a decision on the final design and build will not be made until 2016, detailed work has to take place now to ensure that the Successor Submarines will be the most technologically advanced, to protect our national security.     Contracts have been awarded to BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls-Royce.    The largest contract, worth £328m, has been awarded to BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines, which will work on the overall submarine design. Babcock has been awarded £15m and will focus on designing parts of the in service support. More than £4m has been paid to Rolls-Royce, which will be responsible for the integration of the reactor design.     In May 2011, the MOD announced approval for the design phase, costing £3bn. The contracts announced are part of that investment and are for the design of the Successor Submarines, not the missiles that they will carry.

Lower Block 'LB02' – Towed to Rosyth = As an example of the wider reach of the aircraft carrier constriction programme comes news that Block “LB02”, which stands over 20 metres high, 70 metres long and 40 metres wide, with a section weight quoted at 6,000 tonne has been completed at Portsmouth..   The section is of course required at Rosyth where is will part of the jig saw puzzle that is the assembly of the QUEEN ELIZABETH.       BAE Systems technicians used remote controlled heavy lifting equipment to man oeuvre “LB02” onto a seagoing barge, which will take it the 600 miles to Rosyth and only two weeks ago the first section of the hull was constructed at Portsmouth was transported to Rosyth.   Now all that remains for the BAE Systems ship constructors at Portsmouth is the forward island which will control vessel navigation and house the ship’s bridge.      For the second ship, the PRINCE of WALES, construction has started at Portsmouth of (another) “LB02”.

Dry Run of the Thames Jubilee Pageant – what seems to be the Jubilee spectacular the Royal Navy will play a key part in the protection the Queen’s Royal Barge at the Diamond Jubilee Thames Pageant where sailors and Royal Marines took to a plethora of small boats and raiding craft to flank a pleasure cruiser which was standing in for the boat which H.M.The Queen will use for the pageant on the Thames.
The River Dart (Devon) stood in the Thames when two (2) picket boats and a flotilla of RIBs and ORCs mustered around a stand “Royal Barge” (the local pleasure cruiser DART EXPLORER).      Ten (10) small craft will fly the White Ensign, forming a Royal Squadron to escort H.M.The Queen from Albert Bridge in Chelsea to Tower Bridge.      The 1st Patrol Boat Squadron, based in Portsmouth has been given the task of overall responsibility for the training required.     The Royal Squadron will form around the Royal Family, being carried on the SPIRIT of CHARTWELL, the Royal Barge on the day with a Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines also taken part in the Thames Pageant being on one of the music herald barges which will play supporting music for the waterborne parade.
TRIUMPH Visits Mina Salman (Bahrain) the Fleet Submarine TRIUMPH continues the East of Suez patrol and returned to Bahrain – among the visitors on this occasion was Brigadier General Khalifa bin Abdulla Al Khalifa – Commander of the Royal Bahrain Naval Force.
OCEAN Goes Home – The Helicopter Carrier OCEAN visited Sunderland, the ship’s affiliated city and was open to visitors from the local community and had a full programme.   The OCEAN has recently completed a pre Olympics security exercise in London.   In Sunderland the OCEAN among other things:-
·         Hosted around 100 young people and the Royal Marines Commando Recruitment Team on board the ship.
·         All the crew take to the streets of Sunderland to exercise their Freedom of the City – a ceremonial spectacle with drums beating and bayonets fixed, led by The Band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers.
·         The ship’s football team, known as ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ played the Nissan 2011 Interdepartmental team finalists at the Nissan Sport and Social Conference Centre.

Type 23 Refits - The Type 23 Frigate RICHMOND which entered refit in June 2011 at Devonport for a 10 month period a upgrade and maintenance - is is due back in fleet service in the summer of 2012.     Meanwhile the KENT is undergoing refit at Rosyth and is expected back in fleet service in the spring (2012).    Meantime the PORTLAND under refit at Rosyth and due to complete later this year, has a new Commanding Officer, usually a routine matter and not reported here.   On this occasion Commander Sarah West is worth of mention having joined the Royal Navy at the age of 24 and risen to command a frigate in just sixteen (16) years.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

What is a Destroyer ? - the new United States Navy ZUMWALT Class Destroyer is something else again as the following table illustrates.   The modern DARING is a substantial vessel but when compared with the Cruiser BELFAST can be considered in scale and thus the term Destroyer appropriate, but the ZUMWALT class are a quite different proposition.   Viz:
                                   Displacement (Tons)       Length   x Breadth   x Draft (Feet)
                        SWIFT       (1910)            1,825              353.7’   x  34’5”  x  10’.5”
                        COSSACK   (1938)            1,890              364’8”  x  36’6”  x  13’
                        DARING    (2009)           8,000             500’     x  69’7”  x  24’3”                
                        BELFAST    (1939)           11,550             613’6”   x  63.4”  x  19’9” (aft)
                        ZUMWALT (2015)           16,000             600’      x  80’7”  x  27’6”
The Type 26 Frigate - The Global Combat Ship project is seemingly to go forward and with the steel of the Type 45 destroyers and the aircraft carriers almost done this a the next large in prospect.   In May 2011 a further new specification began to emerge for a smaller 5,500 tonne ship similar in many ways to the German MEKO design with a  a length of 145m and a top speed of at least 26 knots and a crew of 130 with room for 36 embarked troops.   Sixty days endurance and a range of 7,000 miles at 15 knots were the other stated criteria with the Royal Navy set to get eight (8) Anti-Submarine versions and five (5) General Purpose versions.    In remains to be seen what will be ordered.   The Out of Service dates for the Type 23 Frigates are (as stated) as :
 Built     Name                   Out of Service               
1989      ARGYLL                        2023                
199O     LANCASTER                 2024                
1991      IRON DUKE                 2025                
1991      MONMOUTH                2026                
1991      MONTROSE                 2027                
1992      WESTMINSTER            2028                                        
1992      NORTHUMBERLAND     2029                                        
1993      RICHMOND                  2030                                        
1994      SOMERSET                   2031
1996      SUTHERLAND               2033
1998      KENT                            2034
1999      PORTLAND                   2035
2000     ST.ALBANS                 2036

The naming of these Global Combat warships will be the next big nomenclature decision for the Ships' Names and Badges Committee and let the writer be the first to suggest
Anti-Submarine   LONDON          SHEFFIELD         EDINBURGH             CARDIFF          
                        BRISTOL           BIRMINGHAM     MANCHESTER           NEWCASTLE

General Purpose  LION                TIGER                 JAGUAR 
                        PUMA                 PANTHER
Elderly Fort – the Replenishment Ship RFA FORT AUSTIN, first commissioned in 1979, under refit at Birkenhead is nearing the end of a 15 month refit.    The 33 year old ship (37 if you count from the date the ship was laid down) is being fully modernised and brought up to date which should extend her life for another decade and should have an ”Out of Service Date” of 2021.    The work scope includes renewing the crew accommodation, a new galley, stripping out the all asbestos in the ship and replacing it with modern materials, stripping down the main engine and overhauling it, overhauling or replacing all the auxiliary equipment and extensive upgrading of her electronic and communications equipment to enable her to operate with the latest warships.      In the summer of 2009 the RFA FORT AUSTIN was decommissioned and placed in reserve at Portsmouth and was towed by commercial tugs in May 2011 to in Birkenhead for refit.  The fifteen months are up in September 2012 when the RFA FORT AUSTIN will undergo sea trials before re-joining the fleet later this year.

The sister ship to the RFA FORT AUSTIN, the RFA FORT ROSALIE is currently “East of Suez” and is expected to run on until 2022 and by then both ships will have completed their 43rd year!     

Observer Training – The Fleet Air Arm task of training “Observers” continues - the term dates back to one of the original roles of aircraft at sea, in the big gun era, which was to observe fall of shot, and radio back gunnery corrections to their ship.     Unusually, in the Fleet Air Arm an observer could rise to squadron commander. Modern Fleet Air Arm  helicopters are still crewed by a pilot and observer, the observer being responsible for managing the detection and weapon systems - while the pilot does the flying, the observer actually fights the aircraft making tactical and navigational decisions.    The Royal Navy Observers undergo a three phase training programme:-
·         Basic Flying                    703 Squadron @ RAF Barkston Heath      GROB 115E
·         Basic Air Navigation        703 Squadron @ RAF Barkston Heath      GROB 115E
·         Basic Observer Ops         750 Squadron @ RNAS Culdrose             AVENGER T.1.

750 Squadron became fully operational in July 2011 with four (4) King Air 350ER, known in Naval Service as the AVENGER T.1.  the which replaced the venerable JETSTREAM T.2..
RM Special Boat Squadron Support Ships - The 98.6m SBS Support Ship SD NEWTON, dating from 1976 was recalled by Serco Denholm to their service last year (2011) having been withdrawn at the end of 2010 when replaced the purpose built 83m SD VICTORIA which was termed a Worldwide Support Ship being based on the design of an anchor handling tug / supply craft.  The SD NEWTON had been a Cable Layer for the Royal Maritime Auxiliary Service and later served as a Sonar Trial Ship.    

The recall of the SD NEWTON is thought to be related to the expansion of the RM Special Boat Squadron and can usually be found in and around Greenock whilst the SD VICTORIA is a familiar sight in Portland Bay

Friday, 18 May 2012


Steam Still Rules – The Carrier Saga Continues – The “clowns” in charge of making procurement decisions seems to have very little in the way of a even a basic understanding of naval history on which to make the decisions on which the Nation’s defences rest.    The American and French carriers are all nuclear powered – a fact that seems to have escaped those concerned BUT that is there for all to see and know, and always has been.

When the decision was made to take the non nuclear option for the QUEEN ELIZABETH class it meant a power generation plant comprising six electrical generators, four driven by diesel engines and two by gas turbines.    This was the exactly the propulsion mix chosen for the “Through Deck Cruisers” ordered in April 1973 which later metamorphosed into the aircraft carriers of the INVINCIBLE class.   Edward Heath was the then Prime Minister and Peter Carrington was Secretary of Defence building on the work of Dennis Healy who in the 1966 Defence Review had cancelled the UK CVA-01 Carrier project.   One of the lessons learned at that time was the advantages of size – a 42,000 ton carrier could carry only 27 aircraft, whereas a 55,000 ton carrier could carry 49 - an 80% increase in the size of the air group for a 30% increase of displacement.

An electrical propulsion system using diesel engines and gas turbines mean that there is was no steam produced as a byproduct and the commonly used catapult on aircraft carriers relies on the availability of large quantities of high pressure steam.    On any nuclear powered vessel steam is available in large measure and charges a steam accumulator which releases steam faster it can be produced by the ship.   This is a basic and unchanging fact.   There is another basic and unchanging fact that weight in the design of aircraft has always been a curse to aerospace engineers.    The F-35 is no different and is 2002 the aircraft was recorded as having a weight in excess of 30,000 pounds and since then a least another 2,000 pounds has been added.    The kinetic energy needed to accelerate a 14 ton F-35 off the deck of an aircraft carrier to the velocity required is one imagines is a simple calculation and with no steam available the only other option was to opt for the un proven American Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System with the Advanced Arresting Gear that is to be pioneered on the USS GERALD R.FORD, due to enter service in 2015.     The USS GERALD R.FORD is powered by an A1B nuclear reactor which is a smaller and more efficient design than the ones previously used, and provides approximately three times the electrical power of the NIMITZ class A4W reactor plant, and enough to power the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launching System   All of the above was known before the 2010 Strategic Defence Review in the United Kingdom.

With no steam available the design of the QUEEN ELIZABETH class aircraft carriers was always based on using HARRIER style short take off and landing aircraft and the size of the design was dictated by the desire to be able to mount a sizeable air group.   It was a sensible approach to a simple problem – once you go down the road of a non nuclear carrier the electrical power required to produce the kinetic energy would come at a prohibitive cost in terms of space as well as finance.   This too was there for all to see and know, and always has been.

That it fell to a soldier, albeit the Chief of the Defence Staff to explain the decision in some detail and explain the waste of money following the Ministerial statement to Parliament.   All seem to have swallowed the line that the facts changed and it was only a small amount of wasted money.   That was far from the truth.   We the Nation have lost a valuable capability in an abrupt and dangerous way.   Forget the loss of the ARK ROYAL before time as we still have the ILLUSTRIOUS.   What we have lost is the 81 HARRIERs, sold off swiftly at a knockdown price of £ 112 million, despite being valued by the Ministry of Defence at many more times that, and just having a £ 600 million upgrade the make the suitable for future use.   This decision needs to be at the very least investigated and the actions taken need to be justified and explained to the wider public.                                                             

More importantly the coterie of officers and men which flew and operated the aircraft, manhandled them on moving decks safely and efficiently have all be made in effect redundant and there is now a skills gap and those skills will have to be re-learnt at considerable and as yet unquantifiable cost.    There is also the fact that in the Falklands and Afghanistan we have military forces actively deployed and they are very exposed and we have no aircraft carrier in the mix if a pro-active stance is required.   As Libya exposed a handful of HARRIERs operating from the decks of the OCEAN would have saved several small fortunes in fuel costs for the Royal Air Force, without really any loss of bang for our buck in military effectiveness!  Half a dozen HARRIERs working in tandem with the APACHE gunships would have lifted our capability by a factor inconceivable to many and a the Treasury they would have noticed the reduction in the fuel bill even if the wear and tear on the air frames of the TORNADO GR4 and the tanker aircraft was not so apparent.

The (UK) National Security Council, headed by the Prime Minister, which is the very top table in terms of defence decisions is made up of politicians with a few civil servants and is not capable of making any decisions based on scientific or technological issues, but relies on the briefings coming up from below.   It is not a clear decision making process at nobody really knows the questions to ask.   You cannot, on the face of things, blame the politicians for making the decisions they do – they are only politicians – Liam Fox was a medical doctor (and former GP), George Osborne has a degree in modern history and worked briefly for the NHS and Selfridges before becoming a politician, and both William Hague and David Cameron have PPE degrees and really did very little in the real world before becoming politicians.   The present Secretary of State for Defence, Phillip Hammond also has a PPE degree but was a business man before public service as a politician called and has done no more than clean up the mess left by the wrong decisions made in 2010 Strategic Defence Review.

In the case of the aircraft carriers it is not the facts that have changed – the line being pedalled by the Government – it is the understanding of the facts by the politicians that has changed.  They are not the same thing!