Thursday, 28 February 2013

Fisheries Sea Days - For their sea day, the Fishery Protection Patrol Vessels MERSEY and SEVERN were able to demonstrate both their navigational skills with a series of co-ordinated complex manoeuvres at high speed; and showed the Force Protection capabilities with a live firing exercise using their general purpose machine gun and 20mm cannon.     Present was Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral (David Steel), who spent the day on board,    Each of the three Fishery Protection Patrol Vessels (the TYNE is the other one) each spend over 300 days each at sea every year.     Working with the Marine Management Organisation, the patrol duties of the fishery limits surrounding England and Wales are shared between the three ships.

NORTHUMBERLAND Shows Off – the Type 23 Frigate NORTHUMBERLAND has been flying the British flag at the Abu Dhabi’s International Defence Exhibition.     Also in attendance were the Sandown Class Minecountermeasure Vessels RAMSEY and SHOREHAM.   The Fleet Commander (Vice Admiral Phillip Jones) visited the warships at the Exhibition.       After visiting the UK Maritime Trade Operations Office in Dubai, which provides vital information and advice to merchant seafarers East of Suez, the Admiral was able to stress the importance of the ongoing struggle to sweep criminal activity from the seas of the Middle East.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Award To FORT ROSALIE – the Fleet Stores Ship RFA FORT ROSALIE has been awarded The Centenary Wedgewood Bowl an annual award for Humanitarian Aid and International Relations for 2012.  The RFA FORT ROSALIE made an outstanding contribution towards international relations during the ships’ deployment to the Caribbean from December 2011 until June 2012 during which time, apart from the more usual duties, the vessel engaged in High Level Defence Diplomacy by way of:
·         Made a very high level and intense visit to Veracruz (Mexico)
·         Made a visit to Cuba
·         Conducted a two week tour of the Windward and Leeward Islands with the Earl and Countess of Wessex embarked (as part of the “Diamond Jubilee”, with the ship acting as a ‘Royal Yacht’ and with an improvised “Royal Barge” created onboard from an 11 metre workboat).
At Last - Arctic Convoy Veterans can begin applying for their World War Two Campaign Medals to recognise their service, as HM The Queen has approved the design for the Arctic Star – a full campaign medal, which is being cast this week.    It is a shame that it is thought that ONLY between 200 and 400 sailors – all now in their late 80s at their youngest – survive from the four year long campaign, a mission the Prime Minster Churchill acknowledged was “the worst journey in the world”.     The Arctic Star has been granted for operational service of any length north of the Arctic Circle (66 degrees, 32’N) from September 3 1939 to May 8 1945, inclusive and is intended to commemorate the Arctic Convoys and is designed primarily for the ships of the convoys to North Russia and their Escorts.

This is a wrong that has been righted – but why this injustice was ever allowed to arise is quite unfathomable.

ARGYLL Reaches Lisbon – The Type 23 Frigate ARGYLL made a further port call on the current seven month Atlantic Patrol (North) deployment at Lisbon for a briefing on the illegal drugs trade activities off the West African coast. Lisbon is home to the Maritime Analysis and Operations Centre (Narcotics) – an international crime-fighting organisation of European Nations, (including the UK), responsible for tackling drug trafficking from the Cape of Good Hope to the North Cape.    Before arriving at Lisbon the ARGYLL took the opportunity to work with ships and aircraft from the Portuguese Navy carrying out operational training in home waters.   The ARGYLL is the oldest Type 23 Frigate, is service being first commissioned in May 1991, and is due back at Devonport at the end of the summer (2013).

Flying ILLUSTRIOUS - Fresh from the visit to Liverpool, the ILLUSTRIOUS (the “Nation’s on-call Helicopter Carrier), has started aviation training in the Irish Sea working with RAF CHINOOK HC.2 from 27 Squadron from RAF Odiham (Hampshire) and SEA KING HAR.3/3A helicopters from 22 Squadron (Search and Rescue); as well as the Fleet Air Arm’s own SEA KING HC.4 from 848 Squadron from the Commando Helicopter Force at Yeovilton.      The 848 Squadron personnel (student air and ground crew) are among other things undergoing their ‘operational conversion phase.’     During the aviation training the ILLUSTRIOUS made a four hour call at Oil Fuel Depot at Loch Striven, to top up with fuel (as well as taken on fresh food and some stores).

Monday, 25 February 2013

Deck Handlers - Skills Being Relearned – a team of eight British aircraft handlers destined to be deployed on the Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH are currently are on exchange postings with the US Navy, directing aircraft on and off the decks of Assault Ship USS KEARSARGE and Aircraft Super-Carrier USS DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER.

The team will be laying the foundations for British carrier operations in five years’ time on the QUEEN ELIZABETH where the aircraft they will be handling as quoted by the MoD are the F-35B (Joint Strike Fighters) and the CHINOOK, MERLIN and WILDCAT helicopters.   The Group will be writing the Standard Operating Procedures for the new British carrier.

The choice of aircraft nominated by the MoD seems to raise as many questions as it answers - at least the F-35B is mentioned but no mention of the APACHE, the most recent addition the decks of our Helicopter Carriers or any Airborne Early Warning unless the MoD know something we do not about the MERLIN!!
Deep ENTERPRISE – the Survey Ship ENTERPRISE, recently deployed “East of Suez” has surveyed a 250 metre deep canyon after leaving the Red Sea port of Safaga (Egypt) using the ship’s EM1002 Multibeam echo sounder to create the 3D images, from the ocean floor making a highly accurate to measure the sea bed to determine if the depth of water is safe for navigation and shipping.    Safaga is the headquarters of the Egyptian Navy’s Red Sea Command and the ship’s company attended both formal and sporting events to ensure the regional links were kept strong.    The ENTERPRISE  is scheduled to remain in the Middle East until the summer 2013 and well as helping to update some of the Admiralty Chart portfolio the ship will also support the wider international naval effort to prevent piracy and other criminal activities in the Indian Ocean and environs.
Busy GANNET SAR - During the course of one afternoon a Search and Rescue SEA KING HAR.5 Helicopter from HMS GANNET (Prestwick, Ayrshire) had an eventful time, as under:-
·         Tasked from training at 1305, the Royal Navy SEA KING routed from just outside Kilmarnock to Helvellyn where a father and son had fallen on Browncove Crag.     Keswick Mountain Rescue team had also been called out and a Helimed helicopter was also in attendance.   The SEA KING had a doctor from the Emergency Medical Retrieval Team in Glasgow on board for routine training.
·         Then second job that afternoon was at Swirral Edge to attend a fallen walker.    The Patterdale Mountain Rescue team was also attending as was the Helimed helicopter which was standing by.
·         The third job of the day – was a call to another injured walker, this time on Lord’s Rake, Scafell Pike.     The SEA KING was routed to Wasdale to collect Mountain Rescue team which was moved close to where the female casualty had fallen.    The SEA KING assisted with the “packaging” of the casualty on a stretcher.
·         The SEA KING was then routed to Carlisle Hospital for its second visit of the day, and with fuel  running low another splash and dash was required when the fourth tasking of the day came in for another fallen walker, this time at St Sunday Crag, Patterdale.    Arriving on scene it was clear that they would have to winch down to get the casualty ready for a winch recovery to the aircraft.   Both Patterdale and RAF Leeming Mountain Rescue Teams were also in attendance.
The SEA KING finally arrived back at HMS GANNET at 1910, after more than six hours of back to back jobs in the Lake District.
F-35 Fighter Grounded – The aircraft chosen to fly from the new Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH, which will be ready for sea trials in 2016, has been grounded by the Pentagon after the discovery of a half inch crack in an engine blade.      The existing fleet of 51 aircraft, including the machine (s) owned by the UK, were grounded when the cracked blade was detected during a routine inspection at Edwards Air Force Base (California) of an F-35A version of the aircraft of the US Air Force.

The MoD has actually ordered three just machines – two in 2009 with a third in January 2010.    The MoD prior to the 2010 SDSR had planned to procure up to 138 F-35B aircraft for the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm.    The intention now is to purchase 48 F-35B aircraft for the Fleet Air Arm with a further batch will be acquired for the Royal Air Force.   The F-35B Standard Take-off and Vertical Landing version is a single engine, fifth generation fighter aircraft designed and developed by Lockheed Martin and which in British service will be known as the LIGHTNING 11

The original interest in the F-35 programme included the option to have a “British” engine.   All early F-35s were to be powered by the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine but it was planned that engine contracts would be competitively tendered from Lot 6 onward. The engines selected would be either the F135 or an engine produced by General Electric/Rolls-Royce, the F136 engine, an advanced turbofan engine which was to be built in the Bristol (United Kingdom).   In February 2006 the US in its budget seemingly unilaterally announced that in effect the F136 engine was excluded from the programme leaving Pratt & Whitney, with its F135 engine, as the sole choice despite the General Electric/Rolls-Royce team successfully completing a three month preliminary design review by the F-35 Program Office.     From 2006 to 2010 the Defence Department has not requested funding for the alternate F136 engine program, but Congress has maintained program funding.      After self funding the project both GE and Rolls-Royce announced in December 2011, that they would not continue development of the F136 engine because as it was not in their best interest.

The F-35 Programme is the most expensive weapons programme, at a current cost of nearly US$400 billion and this is the second time in two months that aircraft from the F-35 programme have been grounded and the aircraft will remain suspended until the root cause of the blade failure is established.   The F-35B is to to replace the HARRIERs which were prematurely disposed of.  The F-35 has a top speed of 1,200mph (almost twice as fast as the HARRIER) and has radar transparency and stealth capabilities something unknown with the HARRIER.     The F-35 has a range of 450 nautical miles, compared with 300 nautical miles for the HARRIER.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

NORTHUMBERLAND Half Way Through - the Type 23 Frigate NORTHUMBERLAND took a break from supporting the Combined Task Force 152 along with partner navies on maritime security patrols to ensure the stability and security of the Arabian Gulf waterways.    The NORTHUMBERLAND is half way through an eight month deployment “East of Suez”.    The NORTHUMBERLAND has been paying a port visit to Bahrain and has now sailed with the next scheduled port call being Abu Dhabi, (UAE), a visit that will co-incide with the upcoming Naval Defence Exhibition.

American Watch SEAFOXthe US Navy has been following the Royal Navy’s progress with the SEAFOX unmanned underwater vehicle which is controlled from the operations room of the Hunt or Sandown Class Minecountermeasure vessels based in the Arabian Gulf at Bahrain.    The four foot long SEAFOX moves through the water at up to six knots, tethered to the mother ship by a 3,200ft long fibre optic cable and sends back a live video feed to its controller who uses the four motors and hover thrusters to guide the SEAFOX into place so a charge can be precisely laid should a mine be found.

Each of the four British Minecountermeasure vessels base in the Gulf are equipped with the mini submersible and regularly work alongside their US Navy counterparts on exercises - and 'cross decking' of personnel between Navies has seen shared their experiences.
Armed Forces Day – Saturday 29th June 2013 – since 2009 Armed Forces Day has been marked annually with events large and small throughout the UK, and this year the celebrations will include a major national event held in the City of Nottingham.

BULWARK Is Being Tested – The Flagship, the Assault Ship BULWARK has begun five weeks of intensive training with a team of 100 expert Royal Navy inspectors and assessors from Flag Officer Sea Training organisation will join the ship to ensure that ship is ready for all eventualities as the UK’s On-Call Assault Ship.

The BULWARK has spent a period of maintenance since completing the 2012 programme the ship is undertaking Directed Continuation Training, which is unique to the ship and the ability to put more than 700 Royal Marines with all their kit ashore… and bring them back again if required.    In addition to testing the amphibious capability, the from Flag Officer Sea Training staff will also test and assess every aspect of the ship’s fighting ability ie: warfare against surface, submarine and air attack, the ability to command a task group, disaster relief missions and large scale evacuation of civilians such as the Royal Navy has conducted in the Lebanon and Libya in recent years.

Once the training is completed, the BULWARK will be the “on call” available to respond to global events as the Flagship of the UK’s Response Force Task Group.
ILLUSTRIOUS Liverpool – the Helicopter Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS has completed a memorable five day visit to Liverpool ahead of the 70th anniversary commemorations in May 2013 of the Battle of the Atlantic in that city.   During the visit to the great port city the ILLUSTRIOUS was berthed at the Cruise Liner Terminal and nearly 12,000 members of the public looked around the ship over two open days.
ARGYLL Off – the Type 23 Frigate ARGYLL has departed Plymouth at the start on the next deployment for the “Fighting Clan” as the ship is known.    The ARGYLL is scheduled to undertake a range of tasks across the Atlantic in support of British interests worldwide.  Its tasking will be on counter-narcotics effort in the West Africa region as well as providing reassurance to UK territories and partners worldwide.    As such the ARGYLL will relieve the last Type 42 Destroyer EDINBURGH currently fulfilling the Atlantic Patrol (North) tasking.

The ARGYLL completing the previous deployment only ten months ago, and has been kept busy conducting operations in home waters, and among other things representing the United Kingdom and Royal Navy at the National Armed forces Day, the Belgian Navy Days and at a highly important UK Trade and Investment initiative in Hamburg.     The ship has undertaken an intensive period of training and maintenance to prepare for the tasks ahead.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

New Rolls-Royce Submarine Contract – A new ten (10) year £800 million contract, which will help sustain around 2,000 jobs across the UK, will allow Rolls-Royce to deliver and maintain the nuclear power source for the Royal Navy’s ASTUTE Class of Fleet Submarines and the future SUCCESSOR Deterrent Submarines.

Part of the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme will transform its operations to carry out its work at best value for the taxpayer by consolidating costs into one agreement.  The MoD and Rolls-Royce expect to make savings of around £ 200 million over the next decade.

Leaving Afghanistan – there has been much comment in the media on the kit that will be left behind in Afghanistan with statements that to 40 per cent of the UK's 'arsenal' will be left behind and 'millions of pounds' worth of kit will be scrapped!     The MoD has clarified the remarks by saying that the Government is not giving armoured vehicles to Uzbekistan.       The gifting package consists of 50 surplus Leyland Daf 4x4 trucks and spare parts for Land Rovers and will total £450,000.

The MoD has begun to plan for the recovery of some £4bn of inventory deployed to Afghanistan. On current estimates, this could amount to the equivalent of about 6,500 twenty foot containers of equipment, together with about 2,500 vehicles.    Along with our NATO allies it is important that we secure a range of options for the redeployment of our vehicles and equipment from Afghanistan.     Recovering our equipment safely and efficiently is a significant and complex logistical undertaking and this agreement with Uzbekistan provides apparently the operational resilience for our plans.

To put that into some context the Danish Maersk Company operates a virtually daily service from Singapore to Europe ie Rotterdam with few intermediate calls, though Felixstowe is one.   One of the container ships used on this service is the EMMA MAERSK itself one eight “E-Class” Container Ships owned by the A. P. Moller-Maersk Group   When launched (in 2006) the EMMA MAERSK could lift around 11,000 twenty foot equivalent units (TEU), or 14,770 TEU depending on definition.     In May 2010 another ship of the class the EBBA MAERSK set a record for this class lifting 15,011 TEU – so while the MoD struggle with the complex logistical undertaking that is leaving Afghanistan the planners of the Maersk do this every day and have done so for years.    The Danish Maersk Company is of course only one of several major shipping lines that would organise the movement of 4,500 TEU in heatbeat and without great fanfare.

Going to Afghanistan - The next roulement, (or changeover), of UK forces in Afghanistan is due to take place in April 2013 with around half of these units will form Task Force Helmand under command of 1st Mechanised Brigade (British Army).   Among the units deploying to this land locked country will be the Fleet Air Arm Squadrons:-
·         847 Naval Air Squadron/Yeovilton                       LYNX AH.7
·         857 Naval Air Squadron/Culdrose                        SEA KING ASaC.7

Royal Marines Return Early from Afghanistan - More than 100 Royal Marines from 40 Commando RM are returning home early from Afghanistan after handing over to Afghan forces.     Over 50 members of Delta Company, 40 Commando RM, have returned to Norton Manor Camp, Taunton, after their patrol base in central Helmand was handed over to the Afghan National Army. The rest of 40 Commando RM will return in the coming weeks.    During Operation Herrick 17, which began in October 2012 some 18 bases have been closed or transferred to the Afghan National Army.
Farewell to the First Sea LordAdmiral Sir Mark Stanhope GCB OBE ADC paid a two day visit to Plymouth as part of a farewell tour of establishments after completing 43 years’ service in the Royal Navy. 

Mark Stanhope joined the Royal Navy in 1970 and was confirmed as a Sub-Lieutenant in 1972 and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1977, and to Lieutenant-Commander in 1982,   He commanded the Patrol Submarine ORPHEUS (1982-1984) and was promoted Commander in 1986 and went on command the Fleet Submarine SPLENDID (1987-1988), then became a teaching officer on the Submarine Command Course in 1989.     Promoted to Captain in 1991 and was to command the Type 22 Frigate LONDON (1991-92), before becoming Captain, Submarine Sea Training in 1993.     He was appointed Deputy Principal Staff Officer to the Chief of the Defence Staff at the Ministry of Defence in 1994 and then attended the Royal College of Defence Studies in 1997.   He took command of the Aircraft Carrier ILLUSTRIOUS (1998-2000) during which time that ship was deployed on operational patrol off Sierra Leone.    Mark Stanhope was promoted to Rear Admiral and became Director of Operational Management at NATO Regional Command North in 2000 and was seconded to the Cabinet Office in 2002 before being promoted to Vice Admiral and becoming Deputy Commander-in-Chief Fleet in July 2002.    Promotion to full Admiral in 2004 followed and Mark Stanhope became NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander and in 2007 he became Commander-in-Chief Fleet and also took the honorary position of Vice-Admiral of the United Kingdom.    In July 2009 Mark Stanhope succeeded Admiral Sir Jonathon Band as First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff in July 2009.   In April 2013 he will be succeeded by Admiral Sir George Zambellas.

During his farewell visit to Plymouth Mark Stanhope lunched on the Fleet Submarine TALENT and enjoyed a “sail past” in the (Plymouth) Sound as ships undergoing training courtesy Flag Officer Sea Training – the Fleet Flagship and Assault Ship BULWARK, the Landing Ship RFA LYME BAY accompanied by the Type 23 Frigate MONTROSE pall showed  their respects.    The MONTROSE fired a 17 gun salute echoing around the Sound to mark the occasion.    The Patrol Boat DASHER accompanied by two ORCs (Offshore Raiding Craft) provided the escort.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Gibraltar Friction - A 94m Spanish warship, TORNADO, an armed patrol vessel, which typically carries special forces and marines, was spotted cruising irregularly and warned repeatedly to leave British waters. The incursion lasted 19 minutes.   The Gibraltar Squadron with its two 16 m (52’ 6”) Fast Patrol Boats (SCIMITAR and SABRE) are supported by three (3) Arctic 6.5 m (21’ 42) rigid hulled inflatable boats, would struggle to enforce the request to leave.     The Foreign Office lodged a diplomatic protest with Madrid over the most serious episode of sabre-rattling off the Rock in half a century.     Is the current situation similar to that in the Falkland Islands where an unpopular government in Argentina has seen a territorial dispute as part of the solution to a little local difficulty.  The major difference is of course that Spain is an ally within NATO and a partner in the European Union.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

SOMERSET Back – the Type 23 Frigate SOMERSET is conducting post refit sea trials after a £ 20m revamp, working off the south coast, the ship having been out of action since March 2012, when the frigate returned from a fourth six month tour of duty East of Suez in five years.     The Frigate’s embarked flight is equipped with a 14 tonne MERLIN HM.1 helicopter from 829 Naval Air Squadron, which has been completing flight deck exercises on the SOMERSET.   The recent refit for the SOMERSET has seen enhanced sensors, weapon systems and a refurbished flight deck.

BULWARK - Staff College Sea Days – the Fleet Flagship, the Assault Ship BULWARK had lead a week long off the South Coast for the future leaders of the Army and RAF – plus the international military.   Staff College Sea Days gives students undergoing an intensive military course at the Armed Forces College in Shrivenham a taster of what the Royal Navy and Royal Marines do.   The Type 23 Frigate MONTROSE was also in attendance.   Demonstrated was the flexibility of the Rapid Force Task Group which could be on contingency tasking anywhere, and which will be exercising this capability later this year on Exercise Cougar 2013 in the Mediterranean and East of Suez.

MERLIN HM,1 helicopters from 814 Naval Air Squadron (Culdrose) and LYNX HMA.8 from 815 Naval Air Squadron (Yeovilton) also were present at the Staff Days as were the men of 539 Assault Squadron RM which provided the fast raiding craft in the water, while Marines from 43 Commando Fleet Protection Group, the UK’s ‘go-to guys’ when it comes to board and search operations.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Royal Navy Marked the HM Queen's Accession To The Throne - The Royal Navy marked the anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne by flying pennants the length of the Amphibious Command and Control Ship BULWARK.   The saluting gun at Fort Blockhouse at Gosport – at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour – was fired at noon by four specialist gunnery instructors from HMS COLLINGWOOD with all ships alongside “dressed overall” with colourful flags stretching the entire length of the ship.   Other events took place around the fleet.

It is appropriate to review the current posts held by members of the Royal Family as under:-
·         HM Queen - Sovereign is Head of the Armed Forces
·         The Duke of Edinburgh holds the position of Lord High Admiral in the Royal Navy and the rank of Admiral of the Fleet in the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal New Zealand Navy, he is also Admiral of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadets and Captain General of the Royal Marines.   As a serving naval officer HRH Prince Philip served with the Royal Navy rising to the rank of Commander being mentioned in despatches in 1941.
·         The Prince of Wales holds the rank of Admiral in the Royal Navy and is Commodore-in-Chief for Plymouth. He also served in the Royal Navy.
·         HRH Prince William holds the rank of Lieutenant in the RAF and is Commodore-in-Chief for Scotland and Submarines. The Prince undertook an attachment with the Royal Navy in 2008.
·         The Duke of York holds the rank of Captain and is Commodore-in-Chief for the Fleet Air Arm. Prince Andrew served for over 20 years in the Royal Navy where he saw active service as part of the Task Force that sailed to the South Atlantic to regain the Falkland Islands in 1982.
·         The Earl of Wessex is Commodore-in-Chief for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Prince Edward spent three years in the Royal Marines as a University Cadet.    
·         The Princess Royal holds the rank of Rear Admiral as Chief Commandant for Women in the Royal Navy. She has Special Relationships with the Plymouth based Fleet Submarine TALENT and the Assault Ship ALBION and is Commodore-in-Chief for Portsmouth.
·         Prince Michael of Kent holds the rank of Honorary Rear Admiral Royal Naval Reserve and is Commodore-in-Chief of the Maritime Reserve.
One cannot help but ask where’s Harry ?
First Fleet Air Arm Observers AVENGER Trained – the first cohort of Fleet Air Arm Observers have completed their training of the new AVENGER T.1 aircraft of 750 Squadron of the Fleet Air Arm.  The quartet of Observers passed the 16 week course and they can now progress to front line instruction as helicopter observers.  The AVENGER T.1 has replaced the trusty JETSTREAM T.1 and for the record it is reckoned that an hour’s flying in a fixed wing aircraft is roughly half the cost of the same in a helicopter!
CATTISTOCK to the Med – the Hunt Class Minecountermeasure Vessel CATTISTOCK has deployed to the Mediterranean and will serve as part of a permanent multinational maritime force in the area known as Standing NATO Mine Counter Measures Group 2.     The deployment is part of the UK’s longstanding commitment to NATO and outlines the importance of the Royal Navy’s role within the organisation.

845 in the Snow - personnel from 845 Naval Air Squadron of Commando Helicopter Force are keeping their hand in working in freezing Arctic Circle conditions as a post Afghan world looms.   The Commando Helicopter Force will soon swap their SEA KING HC.4 which have served since 1979 and this 34 year span for this mark of the venerable SEA KING has some time to go before the MERLIN HC.3/3A join the Fleet Air Arm.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’s Island - The 680 tonne forward island of the s future Aircraft Carrier QUEEN ELIZABETH has departed from Portsmouth by barge for the 550 mile voyage Rosyth where it will be attached to the rest of the ship which is being assembled.   The forward island will be lifted in place on the flight deck by the Goliath crane at Rosyth.   The forward island, built by BAE/Portsmouth, contains the bridge of the carrier and has about 100 compartments with 43 kilometres (nearly 27 miles) of cabling and 3,101 pipes.     All consoles have been fitted, as have the bridge windows!       The aft island, still under construction at BAE/Scotstoun, will direct flight deck operations.        Unlike the rest of the ship, which is still in its red ‘undercoat’, the island has been painted battleship grey and a motif of the ship’s crest fixed to the structure.
ILLUSTRIOUS Back – After a short two month period of maintenance the nation’s on-call Helicopter Assault Ship, previously a simple Helicopter Carrier faces a hectic year ahead.     The ILLUSTRIOUS after a brief shake down in the Channel, including flying training, is making a visit to Liverpool, ahead of a major exercise off Scotland (Joint Warrior) and two months of rigorous Operational Sea Training in the Western Approaches.   At Liverpool the ILLUSTRIOUS will serve as the launchpad for events to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of victory in the Battle of the Atlantic.   The vessel will then be available to deploy.
Alpine 848 - Three SEA KING HC.4 from 848 Squadron of the Training Unit of the Commando Helicopter Force have been practicing their mountain flying skills in southern Germany - the men and women from 848 Naval Air Squadron are spending a fortnight at Penzling (west of Munich).    Every two years the makes such as deployment, and will carryout valley flying, pinnacle and ridge approaches and, importantly, wind-finding and assessment techniques. All these sorties are identical to those carried out by Commando Helicopter Force front line crews currently flying in Afghanistan.     The training in southern Germany will be extremely valuable for both student aircrew, operating in an unfamiliar and challenging environment, and also the engineering crews working in a foreign country away from the comforts of their home base.
Royal Marine Supply Column - in Afghanistan a vital supply column supporting the Royal Marines has completed its 150th mission delivering men and kit.   The Immediate Replenishment Group of 40 Commando RM is on the road almost daily delivering equipment and personnel to forward bases scattered around the Nahr-e Saraj district.    The group – a mix of Royal Marines and Army soldiers – is the busiest call sign in the entire district, on the ‘roads’ – or rather desert tracks – daily in support of 40 Commando RM on Operation Herrick 17.   Since September (2012), the Group – based at HMS PRICE - has delivered 2,180 tonnes of stores and transported over 350 troops safely to their destinations.   The Group is made up of  ten Royal Marines, ten soldiers from the Royal Logistic Corps and a Gurkha from the Royal Gurkha Rifles.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

AGAMEMNON Underway – Clear news on the construction of our nuclear submarines is often lost in the natural security of both the MoD and BAE and thus it is good to report a £ 2 million contract which has been awarded to Chesterfield Special Cylinders of Sheffield who will supply the high pressure gas cylinders for the sixth ASTUTE Class submarine  cylinders for AGAMEMNON.     The cylinders are critical to a number of vital operations within the vessel, including breathing gas storage, hydraulic and valve actuation back up, ballast operation and missile launch systems. Chesterfield Special Cylinders has been supplying high pressure gas storage cylinders for Royal Navy ships and submarines since the 1930s.

25 NATO Parliamentarians Visit the Gulf25 NATO parliamentarians when visiting the Gulf visited the British Minecountermeasure Force, which are stationed in Bahrain, boarding the vessels Hunt Class vessel ATHERSTONE and the Sandown Class vessels RAMSEY and SHOREHAM.    The British delegation led by British MP Sir John Stanley, the Transatlantic Defence and Security Cooperation Sub-Committee comprised delegates representing eleven different NATO countries.     The visit to the Type 23 Frigate was part of a mission to examine the contribution of the armed forces of NATO member countries to the security and stability of the region and to understand current military operations.     The UK commitment to a regular presence in the Gulf (to ensure freedom of navigation in international waters) has seen the Royal Navy operating in this area for the last thirty years so says the MoD.   In truth the UK interest in the area in truth was long before.   For example more than have a century ago in June 1961, following the announcement by Iraq that Kuwait would be annexed (by Iraq), the UK activated Operation Vantage sending the Aircraft Carrier VICTORIOUS and accompanying “Task Force” to the Gulf.   The Commando Carrier BULWARK landed a company of 42 Commando RM at Kuwait Airport.    The Aircraft Carrier CENTAUR later arrived later to relieve VICTORIOUS and in due course Iraq recognised Kuwaiti sovereignty in 1963.

The Type 23 Frigate MONMOUTH on a routine visit to Doha (Qatar) acted as host to the 25 NATO parliamentarians.      The MONMOUTH (The Black Duke) has undertaken four deployments to the region over the past five years to protect UK worldwide trade routes by restricting the illegal trafficking of drugs and weapons, and by countering piracy in support of Combined Maritime Forces.
Round the Clock At Sea  Deterrence – the Conservative Secretary of State for Defence (Phillip Hammond MP) has made the case for the TRIDENT replacement and thus this becomes one of the fault lines at the next General Election, as of course the Liberal Democrats hold the contrary view.   It is worth noting the points made by the Secretary of State for Defence, summarised as under:
·         For almost 45 years, Royal Navy submariners have delivered the ultimate guarantee of our national security, carrying first POLARIS and now TRIDENT ballistic missiles, the undetected patrolling of our submarines provides an essential protection against nuclear blackmail or attack.
·         Although no State currently has both the intent and the capability to threaten the integrity of the UK, there are countries in unstable regions that possess, or are on the verge of possessing, nuclear weapons.  (North Korea and Iran were quoted).
·         The nature of the deterrent we require (apparently) to be credible, must provide effective deterrence against the full range of current and future threats, with the VANGUARD SUCCESSOR Class Submarines costing some £11-14 billion at 2006/07 prices and delivering security to 2060 and beyond.
·         The deterrent must be carefully scrutinised for savings – if there is a more cost effective way of delivering the required deterrence, of course we should investigate it, and we have already identified more than £1 billion of cost reductions - but we must be under no illusion that we can pick and choose the threats we face. A deterrent only deters if it is credible and available. All the evidence points to a continuous at sea presence, based on TRIDENT as the most cost-effective route to deliver the deterrent effect.
·         Some have argued that we should sacrifice our continuous at-sea deterrence, but not having a submarine permanently at sea would make us vulnerable to a pre-emptive strike. What is more, having to take the decision to arm and deploy our deterrent at sea in a period of tension would risk escalation at the critical moment.    Although it may seem counter-intuitive, the evidence points to a replacement for VANGUARD Class being a lower cost solution than the proposal for a less capable option based on ASTUTE Submarines with “nuclear tipped” cruise missiles. The VANGUARD Replacement would use existing warheads and missiles and elements of the submarine would be designed in collaboration with the USA.      
·         The cruise alternative would mean designing new warheads and missiles, without American partnership, as well as making major modifications to the launch submarines – and the greater vulnerability of cruise missiles means we would need many more of them to deliver any meaningful effect. A cruise based deterrent would carry significant risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation, at the point of firing, other States could have no way of knowing whether we had launched a conventional cruise missile or one with a nuclear warhead.      Such uncertainty could risk triggering a nuclear war at a time of tension, so, the cruise option would carry enormous financial, technical and strategic risk.
·         TRIDENT thus remains the best option for Britain, by keeping our deterrent at sea, we maximise our freedom of manoeuvre, while the TRIDENT missile offers range, endurance and invulnerability with the cost savings of operating a common system with the USA.     At around 5 to 6% of the annual defence budget, the deterrent is affordable and reinforces our special relationship with the USA and our status as a force for good in the world.
Thus the battle lines between the Coalition Government parties have been drawn and we shall see how this matter develops over the time until the next General Election.