FUTURE BRITISH STRATEGY
HISTORY MAY NOT ALWAYS REPEAT ITSELF.....THOUGH OFTEN RHYMES
When Elizabeth the First sent envoys to his court in Delhi,
the Moghal Emperor Akhbar already raked in the equivalent of £ 17 millions annually,
more taxes than George the Third would collect two hundred years later.
The largest economy on the planet was China with 30% of global GNP.
Second largest was India with about 25% and third came Europe with about 23% of global GNP.
The largest European economy was France.
By the year 1700 the Indian economy was overtaking China and the Emperor Aurangzeb collected taxes worth £100 millions
– more than all the nations of Europe combined.
By 1800 the annual tax income of India was collected by the East India Company
– over £ 110 millions a year – and helped pay for Britain to defeat Napoleon.
During this century China may become the largest economy in the World –
For the first time since the Seven Years War over 250 years ago, the largest economy on the planet will no longer be a democracy,
instead once again an imperial state ruled by a single political party, effectively by an aristocracy.
EAST INDIA COMPANY LITE
This century resembles the beginning of the eighteenth. No longer do only three power blocs compete for control of the world’s resources. New players step onto the global stage. Some will struggle more than others to become wealthy and influential countries. Although natural wealth is a huge blessing, often its benefits are squandered through poor political and commercial management and institutional corruption.
Britain has the gift of reinventing itself and that gives our country enormous human energy. Our economic size compared with China and India is remarkably similar to that period three hundred years ago. Let’s reinvent ourselves as a strong player in this modern new world. Britain became the first super-power by breaking away from Europe. We became rich and powerful enough to keep the balance of power on the continent for two hundred and fifty years. Let’s break away a second time, resume a blue ocean strategy by encouraging science and research, new service products and new manufactures for exports, shipping and ship building. Britain could boost its free trade strategy by strengthening British trading communities overseas as a new version of the East India Company. British companies and residents living overseas are export beachheads. We should offer loyal trading partners a reliable friend. A little eighteenth century enterprise would do no harm. Our diplomats have been neglected and need proper resources. Ambassadors and High Commissioners should have the authority to act on their own initiative. Everyone’s trade needs safe oceans. The Royal Navy should quadruple in numbers and fighting power as we enter a time when freedom of the seas increasingly becomes challenged.
' When you're on the phone to Downing Street this morning, Adrian, remind the lady who ordered all those ships that she's sending south.'
The late former Prime Minister Jim Callaghan discussing events with Adrian over a coffee in an Ottawa hotel during spring 1982.
HMS Queen Elizabeth enters Portsmouth Harbour
Click the photo for a strategy and our nuclear deterrent.
THE ROYAL NAVY
' I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea.'
Admiral Sir John Jervis, addressing the House of Lords as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1801
Catching some fresh air on the bow of HMS Eagle
THIN GREY LINE
When Earl Saint Vincent made that famous remark he spoke to a country that understood the blessings of providence and elementary geography. Modern public ignorance of sea trade and sea power is shocking - even when allowing for the education casino - given that our country is no less a group of islands today than 200 years ago. Our global trade and every military operation overseas depend upon freedom of the oceans. Although only five per cent of our trade travels by air and our forces in Afghanistan partly were supplied by air - without those super tankers bringing the fuel by sea not one aircraft could leave the runway. Every round of ammunition, every tin of beans reaches the combat zone after a long sea journey from somewhere and only the final stretch is by truck or chopper before soldiers’ backs take over. As a nation we enjoy all the privileges of a military super power. We are able to intervene across the globe whenever we believe that offers the safest option for ourselves - sometimes alone, sometimes with America, sometimes with other NATO allies or coalitions for dealing with a crisis. We share intelligence with the USA and three Commonwealth allies. We have a seat on the UN Security Council. Our navy's submarines are armed with strategic nuclear missiles. We are masters of our fate.
The glib observation that we punch above our weight is plain nonsense. We punch well below our weight. Compare our modern ambitions with those of our forefathers since the days of the first Queen Elizabeth. The age of the individual adventurer turned our islands into a great trading nation. Out of this, almost by accident, grew the empire that turned us into the first global super power. Modern governments send our armed services into danger while at the same time refusing to pay for enough forces with the best equipment to succeed with the mission. When you read those tables of gross national product always bear in mind that the calculations are based on the rate of exchange for the US dollar. A rise in the exchange rate for the pound will adjust the GNP by the same amount. Our economy is catching up with Germany and according many economic forecasts probably will overtake their GNP within a decade. Germany’s GNP calculated by PPP – purchasing power – comes out at four trillion dollars whereas nominal GNP is about 3.5trillion dollars. No wonder Donald Trump thinks they’re dumping cars! Japan’s GNP at six trillion dollars is nearly double Germany’s. The USA’s GNP is more than double Japan’s. Use any of the customary ways of calculating GNP and it’s hard to see how we’re spending anything like 2% of our GNP on what most of us would consider real defence costs. In any case, random percentages for overseas aid or the defence budget are beside the point.
And here I find myself diverging from the wall to wall academics who inhabit the RUSI these days. Through hard work and tough negotiation Germany has very successfully built an economic empire from the ruins of the Third Reich. I always try to find the roots of events. The Red House Report may record the seeds of the European project – only a couple of pages, easily found on the Internet, drawn up before a meeting called by a senior SS general with influential bankers and industrialists at the Maison Rouge Hotel in Strasbourg on the 10 August 1944. The very act of meeting was high treason. Two hundred miles west the Germans were losing the Battle of Normandy. The whole Seventh Army was caught in the Falaise Pocket, a vast trap of the Fuhrer’s making, strafed all the daylight hours by RAF fighters. Already reports warned of a quarter of a million men killed, wounded or captured and a hundred generals with them. Normandy was the German Army’s third huge defeat and stands alongside Stalingrad and Tunis. Most of their equipment destroyed or lost, the survivors streamed towards Belgium and Holland. Adolf Hitler threatened to destroy Germany rather than surrender. Even to talk of defeat was treason. Round the table were the crème de la crème of German industry and finance. They were gathered to discuss a paper written by a brilliant economist – Ludwig Ehrhard – whom the SA and SS protected. Erhard was not a Nazi, quite the reverse, moreover his paper assumed that Germany had been defeated. All present trusted his judgement. All risked execution.
Erhard believed that the essential first priority after defeat was monetary stability. For this to happen would require the authority of the victorious Allies. Despite the destruction of so many cities German industrial stock was higher than in 1936 but industry feared punishment for using slave labour, scarcity of investment and worried how to create export markets from a ruined continent. Erhard believed the answer was supra-national structures. Within three years Erhard was charged with bringing about monetary stability throughout the American – British bi-zone for economic recovery and by 1948 the Deutschmark had been launched. His idea for supra-national structures became the origin of the European Coal and Steel Community. Erhard himself was highly critical of the bureaucratic structure agreed with the French for the integration of Europe. Britain didn’t want to join, in those days we could still think globally. Erhard went on to become the Chancellor of Germany and founder of their modern economy, a great man who dragged his country from its self-inflicted rubble.
Germany had a lot of help at the beginning from the Marshal Plan and individual Allied soldiers and civilians; Volkswagen was reborn through the brains and leadership of a REME officer who has a street named after him by the grateful people of Wolfsburg. By the late nineteen fifties all sorts of experienced managers and bankers had been pardoned and victims of slave labour compensated. Mostly, ordinary Germans just worked, and they didn’t waste opportunities when they came along. The European Coal and Steel Agreement was the catalyst that led to the Treaty of Rome. Meanwhile in London the FO was fighting the Commonwealth Office for control of foreign policy and all the overseas aid money. We eventually joined the Common Market, partly because of Edward Heath and his political allies, but there was also a power struggle within the new FCO – an amalgamation of the Foreign Office with the Commonwealth Relations Office – for the right to decide the country’s future. ( More on this fascinating tale another time. ) During the mid 1980s Margaret Thatcher proposed the idea of a Single Market. She also helped Ronald Reagan end the Cold War. Soon afterwards Germany became reunited – Margaret Thatcher was uneasy about this development. Moreover, Germany joined the Euro at a very favourable exchange rate just when Eastern Europe was joining NATO and later the EC. Germany’s industrial powerhouse now had the whole of Europe as a smaller version of the kind of scale that the US economy takes for granted. All power to the Germans but the economic impact on their neighbours including Russia has been catastrophic. Look at the results in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy and Poland living on handouts from Berlin and London. Since then the Euro has fallen about 30% against the dollar and pound and the German cash register rings up a $ 200 billions plus trade surplus each year. My hunch is that Erhard would not have allowed that situation to develop and it’s one of Angela Merkel’s greatest failures that she refuses to transfer funds – as happens in our single market, just ask the Scots or the DUP – instead of driving the poorer countries into ever deeper debt. Meanwhile the RUSI academics propose that we should continue handing out aid payments to Eastern Europe and strike ever more defence pacts with Europe. We should do nothing of the kind.
England traded with Europe during the Middle Ages because people believed the world was flat - if you sailed too far out to sea you would fall over the edge. The discovery of the New World and the real size of Africa through the search for a route to the Indies turned our islands into a world power. Our isolated position on the edge of Europe became a huge advantage; we lived astride the gateway to the world’s oceans and soon learned how to make ships that could control that gate. The sudden massive growth of the known world gave us an advantage of economic scale that dwarfs the one enjoyed by America today. North America was just one region of a huge new market. After five-hundred years of this global strategy joining the EC was strategic and commercial idiocy. We turned our backs on an economic strategy that had brought brilliant results and made us the world’s first super power, a position we held for a hundred years. Our empire had been transformed, largely peacefully, into a Commonwealth of nearly fifty independent democratic countries all members of the United Nations. We then turned our backs on loyal friends when the real problem was lack of discipline and hard work at home and mostly driven by left wing politics. Well, eventually the voters put a woman on the job, and brother, did she get results. Our job today, as voters who once wore the Queen’s uniform though with no political ambitions ourselves, is to make sure that the nation does not squander this unique chance to bring the ship back on her true compass bearing.
At this stage may I debunk another myth – that Britain wins victories by muddling through – popular during the worst moments of the war to encourage the public not to despair, when the price was being paid for our politicians neglect of defence for nearly two decades. There was no evidence to support this fairy tale; quite the contrary. Go back through time and you find example after example of planning and training sowing the seeds of victory. During the Napoleonic Wars the Royal Navy was constantly at sea enforcing the blockade on the Continent. The standard of seamanship was high as was the standard of command. Nelson could trust his captains, his band of brothers, and in battle allowed them a revolutionary freedom of manoeuvre to engage as they thought best. This allowed him to fight battles with unheard of daring, employing brilliant tactics and Jack still wears three stripes on his collar to remind us of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. Turn the clock forward one hundred and thirty-five years. During the nineteen-thirties pains-taking research on a low budget discovered the possibility of radio direction finding. At the same time designs for racing seaplanes financed by Supermarine led to the Spitfire and its Merlin engine that also powered the Hurricane. All this was pulled together by Hugh Dowding who laid the foundations of Fighter Command. Dowding’s foresight and meticulous planning forged the weapon that won the Battle of Britain in summer 1940. The secret of success was not simply the skilled pilots and their modern fighters, nor the training system and pulling together replacement aircraft production, but the whole network of radar operators and young women on telephones that made it possible for the sector control rooms to direct the fighter squadrons towards individual approaching raids.
We don’t lack people with this kind of vision today but somehow it’s become harder to wade across the establishment swamp, more and more heavily policed by liberal doom watchers. We need to put this right. Although not one politician has alerted them - British voters face a straightforward choice - give up our privileged existence or pay the real bill. More than that, as during the London and Rio Olympics, let’s rediscover national ambition and quiet pride. We should rank with America and China as a trading nation. This is not the pursuit of Empire 2 to quote the derogatory claim made by Europhiles in the Cabinet Office, FCO and Treasury. I suspect their main intention is to trip up their own trade ministers when visiting fellow members of the Commonwealth. Brexit is not about the past but the future. We need to rediscover our talent for inventing, making and selling to the whole planet. We need another thousand Dyson’s. There’s a huge task ahead for the FCO and the resurrected Trade Commissioner Service ( Every local businessman knew where to find out about British products in Lahore back in 1964 ) but why only nine offices, why not nine hundred? Many small and medium sized companies who could export, don’t. Exporting to distant markets gives us a level playing field vis a vis our Continental rivals. Read the report ‘ Defying Gravity ’ by the Graham Gudgin and Ken Coutts of the Centre for Business Studies at the University of Cambridge with Neil Gibson and Jordan Buchanan of Ulster University Economic Policy Centre, published by the Policy Exchange think tank. All explained in good plain English. Let me just add that my commercial and information staff in Seoul, seven men and a dozen ladies, played a key role in doubling British exports to South Korea. So did the British media who helped us persuade small company owners to jump on a plane and see for themselves. As the Koreans say with an old proverb from China, ‘ Peng mun ee, puriyo il gun. A hundred questions are worth less than seeing once.’
There’s an important niche role for people like ourselves. And here’s why. According to The Times, the Prime Minister and the Conservative Central Office rather discreetly chose mostly remainers, many of them former political advisers, as the new brand of Conservative candidate for the General Election. A landslide would have given the Prime Minister as many as two-hundred-and-seventy remain supporters. The much closer vote upholds the influence of the seventy Conservatives MPs who are steadfast Brexiteers. They also tend to support the Armed Forces and their budget needs. Apart from some honourable exceptions don’t expect much strategic thinking from the southern end of Whitehall over the next five years. This is a job that must be done by us and we must gain the support of the voters. Nowadays, thanks to another British inventor, Tim Berners-Lee, you can reach huge audiences with a mobile phone or from your own living room with a computer. We all have to ask ourselves what kind of a country we want after Brexit. And if we want to become a super power again, the first step is to start thinking like one.
BEYOND THE HORIZON
Naval power acts as a deterrent to political gamblers and thereby prevents conflicts. This applies right across the spectrum from submarines armed with strategic nuclear weapons to fast patrol boats policing the seas against drug runners and pirates. Aircraft carriers are the most awesome expression of this global power - floating airfields that can travel 500 miles during a day. They require nobody's permission to cruise around the globe thus present a threat to most nations with hostile intent towards others. They are the most dangerous conventional weapon on the planet. A single US Navy super-carrier could disable a reasonable sized country during the space of a morning. They are more discreet than any ambassador. Despite Saddam's threats, Saudi Arabia grew confident enough to allow Coalition forces onto their soil to liberate Kuwait because a US Navy carrier group cruised the Arabian Sea. Throughout the Cold War the Soviet Union kept a large proportion of their airpower held ready against the possibility of massive air attacks from the Arctic Sea and the Mediterranean, launched against their surface ship and submarine bases, their ground forces and airfields, from US Navy and Royal Navy aircraft carriers ready to launch fighters armed with tactical nuclear weapons.
The Cold War cost a fortune but a Third World War might have wiped out the human race. This peaceful and successful conclusion remains the best illustration of the simple logic behind strong naval power in modern times. A strong navy makes possible the exercise of peaceful gunboat diplomacy, those soft power messages that remind others we have the brute force to safeguard our allies and interests in far flung corners of the globe. Soft naval power guards our freedom to trade over the seven seas with all five continents. Sometimes naval hard power is deployed, most recently on operations such as the endless Balkan wars, Iraq twice, Afghanistan for nearly fifteen years and now Syria and North Korea. Without aircraft carriers, logistically exposed operations such as Afghanistan become unsustainable overnight, because in real trouble only the aircraft carriers patrolling the Arabian Sea have the freedom to act without restraint in an emergency. There is no possibility of tactical support from an RAF no longer equipped with long range strike aircraft. The core of this country's diplomatic influence and military power depends upon the Royal Navy's ability to position aircraft carriers worldwide.
Naval air power does not come cheap. Aircraft carriers sail armed with fighters, AWACS aircraft and helicopters, loaded with tons of bombs and missiles, some of them nuclear. They need escort forces - for only two aircraft carriers an escort force of twelve Type 45 destroyers and twelve Astute Class submarines was judged the minimum number for covering simultaneous patrol tasks, battle damage, transits and refits - plus a supporting fleet of nearly as many fast supply ships. Aircraft carriers are instruments of national prestige, all the more so for an island trading nation. Our people's standard of living and political power sail with them on the World's most stormy political oceans. They deter war through ruthless menace delivered with silk tongued diplomacy. Recent liberal governments rant about the price of naval power but, if they are not ready to pay the real bill for our islands' defence, they should retreat from global politics – though make the consequences entirely clear to the voters. War costs a lot more than peace.
One afternoon at the end of May in 1957, from the hill above the Moray Sea School at Burghead in northern Scotland, I watched the Home Fleet escort the Royal yacht Britannia bringing HM The Queen and HRH The Duke Edinburgh home from their state visit to Denmark. The aircraft carriers are Ark Royal, Albion and Ocean. The flag ship astern of Britannia is the fast mine layer Apollo capable of forty knots. The cruiser on Britannia’s starboard beam is HMS Superb with another cruiser, HMS Gambia bringing up the rear of the line. The destroyers are Daring and Duchess, Agincourt and Alamein, Barrossa and Corrunna.
Not in the review photo are a submarine depot ship and her small flock of submarines; Artful, Trump, Subtle and Springer. In those days, there were three similar fleets, each with many more ships, patrolling the seven seas. Why don’t we tax the big dodgers like Google, Face Book, Twitter and Amazon, build a royal yacht and hold another royal review with both new aircraft carriers, amphibious support ships, the new Darings, Type 23 and 26 destroyers and frigates with some Astutes. Now that would offer a show worthy of the Queen.
After 1945 the Royal Navy drastically reduced its considerable aircraft carrier strength. None-the-less, throughout the 1950s and 1960s invariably three large carriers and two smaller carriers plus two commando carriers were on strength and usually more than half these warships ready for operations at no warning in home waters, the Mediterranean or the Far East. Throughout the Korean War a pool of three Royal Navy carriers and two Royal Australian Navy carriers ensured that one carrier from each navy patrolled Korean waters at all times. Suez in 1956 required three large carriers and two commando carriers. Iraq's threats on Kuwait's independence in 1961 required one large carrier and a commando carrier - not surprisingly because of over-flying difficulties encountered by the RAF the navy's carriers arrived before 2 Para from Cyprus and support airborne units from the UK. Malaysian confrontation with Indonesia broke out in 1962 and lasted four years. Confrontation required one large carrier and two commando carriers on station off Borneo at all times. Such commitments involve at least twice as many warships as those on the gun line. Withdrawal from Aden and subsequent operations around southern Arabia during the late sixties were supported by one large carrier and a commando carrier. The East African mutinies early in 1964 were dealt with by an aircraft carrier and a commando carrier, both firing blanks from their bofors AA guns but sending Royal Marine Commandos inland by helicopter to carry out airmobile assaults.
A Labour government cancelled the plan for one, possibly three large replacement carriers ( only three made sense ) in 1966 and the Hawker P 1154 supersonic jump-jet originally designed for them - the navy bears some of the blame for losing the fighter though not for losing the carrier. Eventually the navy bought the naval version of the American made Phantom, soon afterwards proven in combat over Vietnam and Laos. The real price was that Britain's aircraft industry lost its technical lead in STOVL. Our 1960s version of today's JSF 35 concept should really be an old lady in retirement at museums and long replaced. There’s a silver lining. Stealth and some 2,750 aircraft have been ordered for the JSF 35 programme.
After withdrawal from Aden in 1967 - rather like Basra without the US Army just up the road - the Labour government of the time decreed that Britain would no longer carry out military operations east of Suez. This policy flew in the face of significant treaty obligations - such as SEATO and with South Korea – not to mention common sense. I doubt if Denis Healy, then Defence Secretary, a former Royal Engineer, believed in his policy anymore than I did; our retreat was driven by Labour panic and the Treasury desperate to save money. Fortunately the withdrawal took about four years which meant that I was comforted as Vice-Consul in South Vietnam by the knowledge that if we had trigger our evacuation plans, somewhere out in the South China Sea was a commando carrier with a Royal Marine Commando on board and loaded with helicopters. A lot of American civilians seemed to know about this option! To compound all their previous mistakes, the same government paid off HMS Ark Royal in February 1979 - although the ' Ark ' probably had another decade in her. This foolish decision was the amber light for Argentine's newly installed junta - an invasion of the Falkland Islands might just prove feasible - because the Royal Navy no longer had an air group at sea, no longer possessed the means to deploy its long range supersonic fighters and strike aircraft, Phantoms and Buccaneers, in the South Atlantic.
With its large carriers at the breakers yards and their replacements cancelled the Royal Navy found itself in a desperate situation. Overnight this country had become nearly powerless to influence events beyond Europe. Our nuclear weapons are a deterrent rather than an offensive weapon. Only for use as a last resort. Fortunately some bright souls came up with a new warship called a ' through deck cruiser ' very soon christened as the ' see through carrier ' and all three ships of the Invincible class gave sterling service from the Falklands campaign onwards. ( Keep in mind three were built. ) After four years of ruthless oppression to stay in power, the Argentine junta were confronted by soaring inflation and high unemployment. The green light for a foreign adventure flashed when the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher not only decided to go through with paying off HMS Ark Royal – they could have reversed the previous government’s blunder - but John Nott, the new defence minister, even wanted to sell the new small carriers and scrap the amphibious landing ships, moreover axe the only ship that patrolled the waters around the Falkland Islands and the Antarctic Territories. During late April 1982 the Argentine Junta invaded the Falkland Islands. By so doing, fortunately for us and the Falkland islanders, General Galtieri and Admiral Anaya saved the Royal Navy.
When Admiral Sir Henry Leach briefed Margaret Thatcher on the ships heading south she asked him why Ark Royal with its Phantoms and Buccaneers was not included in the task force. The admiral reminded the Prime Minister that her Cabinet had followed Denis Healy’s plans, sent Ark Royal to the breakers yard and given its aircraft to the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, he explained further, neither aircraft type could fly 8000 miles. There were no further questions. More on the South Atlantic War further below.
With the Invincible class now proven off the Falklands, some global operations became possible, albeit on a small scale. The Royal Navy sent a carrier force on a Far Eastern soft power cruise in 1986 ostensibly as a defence sales promotion but also supporting temporary commercial activity in the South China Sea by deterring Vietnamese interference. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1991 and the following year a Coalition Task Force assembled for the liberation of Kuwait. HMS Ark Royal was under-going a refit and the other two carriers were busy dealing with the Bosnian War. Two squadrons of Sea Kings supported Operation Granby from airfields close to Kuwait. Even with three carriers we can still find ourselves one short. Two years later in the Mediterranean one aircraft carrier, HMS Invincible took part in NATO air strikes and refugee assistance during the 1993 Yugoslav War. She then redeployed to Iraq waters only to return to the Adriatic two years later for the Kosovo War. The deployments of HMS Illustrious followed a similar pattern. During spring 2000 a small operation to deal with civil war in Sierra Leone was carried out by HMS Illustrious with HMS Ocean. This was a text book example of how to insert and support a small intervention force - and restore order when a state fails. The Paras seized the airport and the Royal Navy brought a Royal Marine Commando backed by Harrier jump-jets three days later. The civil aid follow-up has been criticised as an example of the complete opposite. More recently Royal Navy aircraft carriers have been involved with operations in Afghanistan since the first shots after 11 September 2001 and returned to the Gulf when the Coalition invaded Iraq and regularly redeployed there afterwards.
After the financial crisis in 2008 this country ended up with the first coalition government since the informal Lib-Lab pact back in the late 70s between David Steel and Jim Callaghan. This time we suffered a Clegg-Cameron government and the blame for that lies in the lap of the BBC. For the Armed Forces and HM Diplomatic Service they were a disaster. Britain's rather naive politicians became living proof that Oxford’s PPE course should be abolished on grounds of national survival. Cameron – Heaven knows who was his tutor - fell into the same trap as Winston Churchill in 1919 who clung to his misguided belief during the 1920s until fired at the beginning of the 1930s. Churchill then castigated the government for the next decade over its foolishness in believing he was right. Churchill had predicted that Britain would not go to war against another state for ten years. Then in 1931 he lost his job and changed his mind because he could see that by neglecting our armed forces we had opened a path for the dictators. PPE students at Oxford obviously don’t read the same history books as my generation – Norway, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, Greece, Crete, Malta, the desert defeats, Singapore, Hong Kong, Burma, the bitter convoy battles and loss of much loved ships were all vivid events in our lifetimes. Our motto during the post war years was never again. And when the Korean War broke out in 1950 without wasting a moment Clement Atlee’s Labour government launched our massive rearmament and developed our atomic weapons. Some sixty years later, following the financial crash, David Cameron and George Osborne thought it more important to double the money we gave away as international aid, than to keep our armed forces up to strength. The navy lost its three small aircraft carriers, including the successor HMS Ark Royal and its force of nearly a hundred Sea Harriers.
Consequently Libya’s civil war caught the Royal Navy without a single aircraft carrier. Within months British forces were engaged under a UN Resolution against Q's regime in Libya. Air operations mounted from the British Isles and later Sicily and Cyprus, according to one academic, ran up a bill of £ 1.75 billion, no less than ten times the cost of deploying the small HMS Ark Royal ( had she still been in service ) with her Harrier jump-jets. The navy found a cheaper solution by sending HMS Ocean with six Army Air Corps attack helicopters. This filled a gap but all the helicopters - I am told – were written off afterwards because their electronics were never meant to cope with salty humidity - cost about £ 120 millions.
A combination of Tornadoes and Typhoons with Sentinel and drones worked extremely well. Indeed, the Chief of the Air Staff made this point to the House of Commons Select Committee on Defence, fully supported by the First Sea Lord. The latter remarked that the RAF's air support ' worked splendidly ' though reminded that aircraft carriers provided bases that could move around the globe. Even so, pilots were flying missions 5 or 6 hours long, a large chunk of that time making the sea crossings. France's aircraft carrier performed 1350 sorties ( most of them air strikes ) during 120 days off the Libyan coast. Often the carrier aircraft reacted and attacked targets of opportunity within 20 minutes.
Deployments of carriers by the Royal Navy fall into patterns. Some concerned winding down the Empire or defending the rights and territory of newly independent former colonies and imperial allies - Kuwait, Southern Arabia, Malaysian Confrontation and the South Atlantic War. Other deployments have protected economic interests, particularly in the Middle East - Suez in 1956, the Gulf War and Iraq War. Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Libya, piracy along the Horn of Africa, Syria, Yemen, policing the Gulf - bring the Royal Navy back to colonial policing which demands long term commitments. Sooner rather than later a task force of strike carriers and commando carriers was bound to assemble off southern Arabia to deal with the pirates and terror merchants with an intervention on shore. As I write special forces with naval support are engaged in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and southern Arabia. HMS Ocean is the flag ship.
South-west across the Arabian Sea lies the Horn of Africa and ' Puntland ' that lawless region of Somalia, controlled by pirates but not a recognised state. UN rules do not apply. We can deal with the pirates as we regard appropriate. Given that the pirates can only operate from places where they control the government, the way ahead seems obvious. Better to destroy the nest, declared Lord Palmerston of the slave traders, than try killing each individual wasp. The same principle applies to states harbouring terrorists. The lesson of the last 65 years is straightforward - even during the more predictable era of the Cold War at least once every decade, frequently twice, and lately throughout a whole decade, the Royal Navy has deployed its aircraft carriers for strategic deterrence or more often, warfare between states. For all the billions spent on spying, none of these crises were predicted.
Faced with governments led by former political interns ignorant of history, wisely, the admirals, generals and air marshals chose to fight only for essentials. That meant above all to keep alive the key elements of naval, land and air power so as to see them survive and fight for common sense another day. The navy suffered drastic reductions to its surface and submarine fleets but fought and won the battle to rebuild its carrier force. I remember conversation at the RUSI around this time with the Chief of the Air Staff. Stephen Dalton said that if the government would increase the defence budget by £1 billion a year, all three services could do everything they planned. My advice was stick together, don’t fight each other, your most dangerous enemies are on the other side of the street.
After twelve years of foot-dragging the Labour government finally signed the contracts for building two big aircraft carriers to operate the JSF 35 fighter which employs jump-jet technology much improved from that originally deployed with the veteran Harrier fighters. In a sense this is the ' aircraft ' cancelled in 1966 - with 40 years worth of technology advances. The contract for the ships was delayed by Gordon Brown because he preferred to keep the thousands of jobs as a General Election bribe in Scotland. Brown lost the election. Cameron barely won it, therefore formed a coalition with the Liberals who prostituted themselves to the highest bidder. The aircraft carriers would have been axed by the new government who were more liberal than conservative, ignorant of foreign policy, defence and indeed history. Fortunately, one of the decisions that Gordon Brown got right was to make the contract so copper-bottomed that it was more expensive to cancel the ships than to build them.
HMS Queen Elizabeth after floating out from her Rosyth dry dock.
FULL AHEAD - AT LONG LAST THE CARRIERS TAKE SHAPE
On the 4 July 2014 the Queen christened her new ship with a bottle of Islay single malt. A few days later the dock was flooded and tugs nudged the navy's latest addition into the harbour. One tug was lifted forward by the giant crane and lowered into the building dock to do the pushing. The first of the Royal Navy's future aircraft carriers daily looked more and more like a warship. Below deck a great many of the compartments are finished and the full complement is on board commanded by Commodore Jerry Kyd, previously captain of HMS Illustrious. On the 26 June 2017 helped by tugs, the ship was squeezed through the harbour entrance with inches to spare sideways and underneath in a remarkable example of precision skill – I’m not sure if it’s engineering, seamanship or a lot of both. She was then anchored for some hours before slipping under the road bridge and then the old railway bridge to reach the mouth of the Firth of Forth and the open sea. Now follows six weeks of sea trials. As predicted on this website eventually the ships will displace 70,600 tons - possibly 75,000 tons with further refits - and best speed will prove nearer 32 knots rather than the official 25 knots. This is more like their American super-sisters apart from limitless range.
After reversing the ' previous decision reversal ' both carriers will operate STOVL variants of the JCF 35 after all. This decision corrects another decision, also taken in haste by the Prime Minister and his Chancellor - not the admirals - who would have turned the clock back to the 1960s. The previous Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, will be blamed by Downing Street for taking sweets from the babies’ mouths but yet again, the Prime Minister looked foolish and clearly way out of his depth. Cameron’s ignorance was expensive because of his laziness.
There are indeed sensible arguments for returning to conventional fighters flying off angled flight decks. CATOBAR - Catapult take off but arrested recovery - apart from greater range and payload makes possible operating fixed wing EAW aircraft with long range. The choice also allows American conventional naval fighters to cross-deck. No operational co-operation is envisaged by the French Government under the new Anglo-French Defence Agreement and the overall value of such activity is probably marginal. The CATOBAR version of the JCF 35 cannot land and take off from the present French aircraft carrier because the JCF 35 is too big and too heavy when operating at maximum take-off weight - so I gather from expert sources. Nor does the French carrier have its flight deck treated with the special heat proof paint required for operating the STOVL version. The RN and the RAF could fly the CATOBAR version, moreover it’s equipped for buddy air-to-air refuelling. However, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force would abandon a highly versatile technology, strategy and tactics, proven in sea and land combat. The US Marine Corps chose the STOVL version and ordered four-hundred-and-twenty aircraft.
Jump-jets can operate from aircraft carriers of all sizes, also smaller ships and make-shift advance airfields. Jump-jets allow crews who are normally land-based to fly off ships without lengthy training courses, allow naval fighters to join ground operations. Naval fighters boosted by RAF ground attack fighters and vice-versa made a highly effective combined Harrier Force. The range of the jump-jet is less important than its ability to leapfrog from shore to ship and even leapfrog again from ship to ship providing they have heat proof painted decks. This agility requires the relatively modest support of their parent ship whereas conventional fighters, USAF or RAF, cannot set up shop without all the support and defence forces inherent in a large secure base with massive runways, not to mention reliance on friendly countries to provide the air bases. Secure bases cost a lot of money and take a long time to build. By 2009 over $ 500 millions had been spent on Bagram airbase in Afghanistan with a further $ 100 million planned. Obviously the cost of securing them and the aircraft that fly from them costs much more. Aircraft carriers join the fleet ready for operations.
During the South Atlantic War the RN Sea Harriers and RAF Ground Attack Harriers operated from aircraft carriers and hastily prepared strips on the islands. The first fighters based in Afghanistan were Harriers - no other jet fighter was able to fly from such high altitudes and off the rough strips available. One can argue that performance from high altitude airstrips can prove more important than combat radius. This strategic elbow room persuaded the naval architects to design two large aircraft carriers for jump-jets. Back in 1998 they could just as easily have opted for catapult launched fighters and bought the F 18 Super Hornet. A widely leaked misconception is that smaller carriers provide the same strategic impact. This old wives' tale surfaces in the newspapers every few months and reflects an editor's lunch with somebody who is weak at geography and three dimensional thought. The JCF 35 programme develops a fighter in a different league from the much smaller Harrier. A significantly bigger ship is required to carry enough of the new fighters for a strategic effect; in other words, enough them to threaten serious retribution and impose the rule of law on gangster states. Years of thought went into designing the new aircraft carriers and their size reflects the best value for the total investment - the whole package. Many lamented the loss of the Ark Royal and her Harriers. As one former Chief of the Naval Staff told me in London, ' Forget the Harriers. It's sad about Ark Royal. Let's concentrate on making a big success of the future carriers. ' He'd just had a tour of the first one under construction and was very impressed.
Warships go into battle and sometimes take hits. A large warship, designed to withstand battle damage, has much more chance of survival and often remains able to fight. There is armour, room for built-in redundancies for command and power cables, plenty of space for stores. By contrast, during the Falklands War, the two aircraft carriers often had live ammunition stacked on the flight deck because of the cramped spaces below deck. An idea of the advantages of a big ship can be seen from an accident on board the USS Enterprise some 70 miles off Pearl Harbour in 1969. The exhaust from an F4 Phantom set off rockets which set off a chain of fuel and ordinance explosions - eighteen in all including several 500lb bombs - which blew eight holes in the flight deck, destroyed 15 aircraft, killed 28 and injured 344 members of the crew. The holes were patched and the ship ready for action within hours. The eventual repairs cost $ 122 millions.
This is nothing new. After the Battle of Jutland over the 31 May and 1 June 1916 the Kaiser claimed victory because the Royal Navy had lost two more ships and many more men than the Imperial German Navy. Three of the British battle cruisers had blown up because of faulty design and risky methods for ammunition handling but that was kept secret at the time. The battlecruisers were stacking cordite in handy places that broke all the safety rules to speed up the rate of fire. None-the-less, during less than two hours, Jellicoe's main battle fleet, though taking hits, did a great deal more damage to Admiral Sheer's battleships. Apart from those sunk, three almost sank while being towed back to harbour. On the 2 June Jellicoe was able to signal the Admiralty in London that he had 24 battleships and battle cruisers ready to sail - Admiral Sheer had 10 ready to sail. Warships need size to absorb punishment.
My concerns over the new aircraft carriers are whether they are tough enough, fast enough and have enough redundancy including manpower if machinery gets damaged or fires need fighting? The huge crew of a US carrier allows for coping with such emergencies. Are the new carriers properly armoured? By this I do not mean old fashioned thick steel but modern construction techniques and materials. Secrecy can hide technology though also stupidity. Have the engines enough power? The new carriers' designed best speed is stated as 25 knots, ten slower than a USN super carrier. With STOVL jump-jets this is not critical. Fortunately the project director has revealed that their best speed will be at least 32 knots. What makes the whole package appear distorted is the plan for a ridiculously small number of fighters and dangerously low number of destroyers, frigates and submarines. Far from making the carriers smaller, or reducing their air group to laughable numbers, the right answer is to double, better still triple, the strength of the destroyer and frigate force and the submarine force.
JCF 35 Lightning Two - actually for Brits she's Lightning Three
The biggest problem with the aircraft carrier programme remains that the last three Prime Ministers and their Cabinets did not understand strategy nor the role of naval air power and thus the strategic value of aircraft carriers and a balanced strong navy. Most of the people running the FCO have never worn a uniform let alone seen an angry NAAFI girl. At present we have a stream of sound bites, often waffle from the politicians directly involved. There is no point building two 70,000 ton aircraft carriers unless you arm the ships with a full air group on board all the time. Air groups have to train constantly, fly in all weathers, day and night, against the toughest opposition. A big carrier with a dozen fighters and a few helicopters will indeed provide visible protection from a more powerful friendly nation for small countries threatened by other small countries. That's not the strategic reason for building the largest warships ever ordered for the Royal Navy.
Both carriers are designed to carry an air group of around 40 strike fighters, rising to 50 or 60 in an emergency. Adding an F 35 equivalent of the EA 18 Growler to the package - two or three for each carrier - by developing one with the Americans would give the Royal Navy far better long range intelligence of all kinds. One air electronics F 35 could scout ahead and redirect non-stealth aircraft so that enemy defences are avoided. Such an aircraft package would place the Royal Navy in the same ISTAR league as the US Navy. Having opted for the jump-jet variant of the F 35, our carriers launch aircraft from ski-jumps rather than catapults; the EA 18 Growler is no longer an option. Another answer must be found and probably by the government investing in the full electronic suite option for some of its F 35s. This would support deep penetration strikes against the kind of defences that Putin and pals deployed around their bases in Syria – defences, interestingly, that couldn’t stop five dozen US Navy tomahawk cruise missiles.
The size of the carriers has little to do with the variant of the JCF 35 fighter chosen for their air groups. Rather, the naval architects were asked to design ships that could launch a given number of JCF 35 sorties per day, over a period of four weeks before the ship needs re-supply with munitions and aviation fuel. This design target led to the plan for an air group of 36 fighters backed by 4 or more AEW and air sea rescue helicopters. The scenario began with a surge of 150 sorties per day but after a debate lasting years – yes, really - settled on a surge of 108 sorties a day followed by 72 sorties a day for ten days, followed by a further 36 sorties a day for the another twenty days. Much of the demand for space is to meet the need for equipment to handle ammunition and stores at this rate. One suspects that the original scenario was wiser though required four possibly five squadrons of fighters - whereupon the government wilted at the bill for 48 or even 60 JCF 35s on board each ship. Even the best plan falls apart once contact is made with the enemy. Another Battle of Midway could require as many sorties a day as humanly possible. One of the lessons from the South Atlantic War was how fast Sea-Harriers could be turned round after air strikes on shore to patrol as air defence fighters. Opting for the catapult launched fighter equips the carriers with an aircraft with greater range and much greater internal payload ( a conventional engine takes up less room ) and allows buddy refuelling. This does, however, require more space on board for storing fuel and ammunition. The US Navy has experienced problems with the new electric catapult system so the decision to revert to STOVL probably avoided a great deal of extra cost – as our two carriers would have been the guinea pigs.
The strategic impact of either design is out of all proportion to the cost – the ships’ planned lives are 50 years and they will bring a huge increase to the strength of our nation and the Atlantic alliance. Few in the US Navy will question the value of a special relationship with a unique ally who adds two world class carrier groups to our mutual strength. I stress ' groups ' because at the very least the Royal Navy needs to triple its fleet of destroyers, frigates and submarines and form three or four squadrons of maritime patrol aircraft for controlling home waters and duties overseas. STOVL allows the aircraft carriers to host Royal Navy, RAF and US Marine Corps squadrons including Osprey troop carriers. This versatile package is going to provide a conventional deterrent force with enough stealth firepower to frighten any country, small or large. Add fighter delivered tactical nuclear weapons or hypersonic weapons among the group’s escort forces and every big hostile country will tread carefully. As we all know, well, at least some of us do, peace is much cheaper and far less painful and harrowing than war. Always deter, only fight as the last resort and even then only over essentials.
The new aircraft carriers will be the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy weighing in at 70,600 tons fully loaded and 930 feet long with a 240 feet beam (at the water line 128 feet) thus much closer in size to the US Navy's strike carriers. Yet they will go to sea with only 1300/1400 complement rather than nearly 5000 on a US carrier. The flight deck has two islands, one for steering the ship and a second for controlling its aircraft. The ski jump bow allows its STOVL fighters to use less fuel and take off while carrying a heavy load. Over a lifetime of 50 years the ships may increase to 75,000 tons fully loaded as ballast changes and additions are made - such as armour on the flight deck and sides - and possibly further deck space added. France planned a single aircraft carrier along the same design though weighing 75,000 tons, presumably its armour and catapults since the ship's length and beam were going to be the same. This plan has now been shelved. There are sensible arguments for this country building a third big aircraft carrier - set out further below.
One former UK defence industry leader - an eminent man so I gather - proposed in all seriousness that the Royal Navy should buy American aircraft carriers and lease F 18 fighters. A child could work out that paying 5,000 sailors costs more than paying 1,400 sailors over the same number of decades. Leasing the American ship's companies won't help either given the rate of exchange trend over the last fifty years. The same expert faults the Type 45 destroyers because they aren't suitable for export. We need every Type 45 we can build - starting with another six Super Type 45s for our navy - because the government have exported far too many comparatively new destroyers. This sorry tale of muddle, indecision and frequent political cowardice should be compared with the US Navy's long established programme of budget discipline, lateral thinking and above all, clever deals.
Britain is well placed to develop new aerial vehicles for a variety purposes including naval tasks. I was involved in supplying an airship to the South Korean police for the Seoul Olympic Games as far back as 1986. We sold it and the company rose from the financial ashes to design and build a hybrid airship - mixing features of heavier and lighter than air technology - for long range ISTAR. The US Army was going to try out an HAV 304 in Afghanistan but cancelled the contract. The HAV 304 can stay airborne for a week and cruise at 80 knots. The payload of 30,000 pounds will allow a large amount of technology on board and the crew numbers to exploit this equipment. Weather conditions may limit the use of HAV but only where extreme wind conditions occur and since their present ceiling is 20,000 feet, HAVs are able to keep above much of the bad weather. Designs have been considered for HAVs with ceilings up to 60,000 feet as alternatives to satellites. A possible development might be an HAV support ship as part of a carrier task force, big enough to provide the HAV with fuel, fast enough to keep pace with the task force.
BAE are working on a prototype UAV jet aircraft - Taranis - and there is scope for all sorts of naval applications for HAVs and UAVs. One can envisage HAVs and UAVs flying ahead of the carrier force and reaching the operational area several days before the surface ships. When the carrier strike force arrives on station the air wing has a comprehensive ISTAR picture and has spent the last leg of the voyage drawing up plans based on real time information.
Home at last!
The paramount duty of all governments is the safety of their people through strong defence. Americans understand this. No matter how many people question Iraq, hardly a soul questions the need for their navy to have enough ships and with enough fighting power. Maintaining the global power of the Royal Navy is likewise the British Government's first priority. From drawing board to commissioning a warship or submarine takes many years. You cannot design a fleet around what is happening today. You hold enough ships in reserve for dealing with unforeseen crises. You build a fleet to deal with tomorrow's dangers. One doesn't have to look hard for warning signals.
SOFT NAVAL POWER
Early in December 2007 the Russian Northern Fleet launched a big exercise with ships including an aircraft carrier weaving among the Norwegian oil rigs. This exercise involved a great deal of helicopter traffic. No warning had been given to the Norwegian government. Eventually the Norwegian oil companies had to stop all civilian helicopter flights until the Russian warships had passed through their sector. The exercise involved seizing oil rigs. Russia's fleet passed within spitting distance of the UK sector. Walk half way across the Murchison oil rig in the North Sea and you step into the Norwegian sector. Nor could we have stopped them from grabbing any number of oil rigs - the RAF no longer has maritime strike aircraft and the Royal Navy will not possess an attack carrier with strike aircraft until 2021. Russia understands the value of naval soft power. Russia pursues an aggressive foreign policy for control of Europe's energy supplies. The message of this major naval exercise passed over the heads of the UK media - though wasn’t lost on the Ministry of Defence who made no public fuss.
Russia's fleet made a westerly swerve around the Shetland Islands followed by exercises with the French Navy off south-western Ireland. Next, exercises took place with the Portuguese Navy, before the Northern Fleet passed through the Mediterranean and reached the Black Sea. Russia has the right to exercise its fleet on the high seas - we don't notify coastal states of warship transits either - but the lack of polite advance warning reveals the core purpose. Showing two NATO members ' diplomatically ' how Russia’s navy could seize those oil rigs from under our noses, testing our reaction, measuring our nerves and resolve, before rubbing insult into injury by exercising with two of our NATO allies.
Despite this truculent behaviour, Russia's navy is a shadow of its former power. All the same, it’s based on our doorstep, and Russia's Northern Fleet has enough ocean going surface ships and nuclear submarines to cause neighbouring countries serious concern. Eleven missile submarines, twenty-two attack submarines, eleven major surface warships including an aircraft carrier and three missile cruisers. Fortunately the Russian fleet breaks down quite often but we cannot rely on this as a defence option. Nor will this phase last much longer. Wiser to ask ourselves precisely how would Britain protect its oil and gas rigs, indeed our merchant shipping sailing the North Sea and Norwegian Sea from a powerful hostile navy with bases only hours distant? There are reports that Russian surface ships and to a lesser extent submarines, practise approaches to our main ports. Alpha class submarines can carry up to forty mines instead of torpedoes. The Dover Strait is the busiest sea highway on the planet. A hostile navy imposing a blockade, merely a stop and search regime, could inflict immense damage on our economy and those of our neighbours without firing a shot. Russia has announced a large increase in spending on its armed forces - including the equivalent of nearly fifty billion dollars on new ships and submarines over the next few years.
Russia's present leaders also favour brinkmanship as a foreign policy tool. Conventional weakness inevitably forces political leaders towards the nuclear threshold – quite recently we saw again Russia threaten Poland over the strategic missile defence system. Nuclear bombers regularly fly courses aimed at cities in northern Britain. Restoring the Royal Navy's strength in home waters and the Atlantic would bring more stability and order to the whole region - before Russia becomes tempted to step into the present strategic vacuum and start claiming its neighbours' natural resources. To an extent this has already begun with Russia's claim to a large area of the Arctic Ocean. While this claim immediately concerns the USA, Canada, Denmark, Iceland and Norway all these countries are NATO allies.
Royal Norwegian Navy frigate Roald Amundsen keeping an eye on the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
HARD NAVAL POWER
Strong forces deter, prevent or contain threats. Weak forces invite armed robbery. When UK defence minister, John Nott, drastically shrunk the Royal Navy - he was a book-keeper in business life - his rash decision persuaded Argentina's junta to gamble in spring 1982 that they could invade the Falkland Islands with impunity. Many brave men on both sides lost their lives because of those twin foolish decisions. John Nott remains the only British defence minister who started a war with his own white paper on disarmament. David Cameron almost became the second. After the South Atlantic War a serious effort was made to rebuild the Royal Navy's strength but this soon faltered with collapse of the USSR. For the last two decades the defence and security of the British Isles and our trade by sea have been shamefully neglected.
The temporary absence of a threat from potentially hostile submarines in home waters tempted both Conservative and Labour governments to run down the Royal Navy's fleet of destroyers, frigates and attack submarines. After Tony Blair's election in 1997 this run down accelerated. The navy was forced to reduce its surface and submarine strength to counter budget over-runs for the Type 45 destroyers and the new Astute class submarines. Further drastic reductions were made to ensure the two new aircraft carriers would go ahead but their support ships were ordered then cancelled. The best way to measure the gap between what was planned and current reality is by using the previous government's own calculations when it drew up its first defence white paper in 1998. This paper opened with a proposition that another Russian threat appeared unlikely and the navy would re-structure for intervention operations. This allowed a reduction from 35 to 32 destroyers/ frigates and from 12 to 10 attack submarines. ( I never followed their logic which implied that only 3 more surface ships had been needed to deal with the Northern Fleet's many submarines. ) At the same time plans were drawn up for building 12 Type 45 destroyers ( soon reduced to 8 then only 6 ships ) and as many as 20 Future Surface Combatants/replacements for the smaller type 23 destroyers plus at least 10 Astute Class submarines. According to the last government's own calculations at present the navy is short of 10 destroyers and 3 attack submarines - before the reckless Cameron coalition cuts and any new threat emerges from Russia or indeed, anyone else, starting with Argentina and the Somali pirates.
One has to look further back, at the Royal Navy before John Nott became defence minister for an idea of the minimum strength judged necessary to carry out its tasks for NATO in the Eastern Atlantic when confronted by a strong Russian Northern Fleet. No less than 70 destroyers and frigates and 30 attack submarines backed by three aircraft carriers were required to have enough ships and submarines ready at no warning for any sign of the Soviet Northern Fleet leaving its bases in large numbers. There were also 40 minesweepers and nearly 40 offshore patrol ships in case the Russians attempted mining and sabotage before major hostilities. We knew already from reliable secret intelligence that widespread sabotage would be attempted by Russia. One of the reasons for kicking out 105 spies from the Russian Embassy in 1973 was their industrious research for sabotage targets and fifth column helpers. Supporting the Royal Navy were several squadrons of sophisticated maritime patrol aircraft and a strong force of strike aircraft based in Northern Scotland. What would have happened in an emergency provoked by the Russians was revealed in spring 1982 when the Argentine junta invaded the Falkland Islands.
Bear in mind that had the Royal Navy still possessed a proper battle fleet the Argentine Junta would never have dared to attempt an invasion. Spearheading any liberation would have been HMS Ark Royal with Phantom air defence fighters and Buccaneer strike bombers - both capable of long range, plus AEW fixed wing aircraft and ASW helicopters. HMS Hermes and HMS Invincible would have supported Ark Royal with their Sea Harriers and ASW helicopters. HMS Bulwark and HMS Albion, commando carriers with troop transport helicopters, plus the two large assault ships, HMS Fearless and HMS Intrepid, would have carried the Royal Marine Commando Brigade and Special Forces. The whole plan for how to liberate the islands would have been vastly different. This force would have kicked down the front door, not the back.
Instead the Royal Navy pulled off the job with a much weaker force but paid a heavy price. As neither side gained air supremacy the battle turned into a bloody slogging match, until the Royal Navy pilots won air superiority.
Over a matter of days the Royal Navy gathered a small carrier task force and within three weeks despatched about 100 warships, submarines and merchant ships. These forces sailed south in three main groups - the nuclear attack submarines, the aircraft carrier group, the main amphibious group. Two small aircraft carriers were relieved later by a third and altogether six submarines and twenty-three destroyers and frigates served with the task force. Governments are penny wise and pound foolish. Lacking any form of airborne early warning ( AEW ) on the aircraft carriers, led to six losses among their surface escorts with a further eleven of the destroyers and frigates suffering damage. Moreover, very few ships carried the latest defence systems against both aircraft and missiles. Had all the warships been properly armed including AEW on the carriers then the task force would have suffered far less, possibly not lost a ship, certainly significantly fewer.
Argentine's air force had never fought an air battle, lacked long range strike aircraft, possessed a handful of tanker aircraft and its pilots weren't trained to attack ships. The air-to-air tanker gap forced the Argentine pilots to keep their speed lower to conserve fuel. They were attacking at the limits of their endurance. Their navy possessed a squadron equipped with French Etendard fighters armed with Exocet sea skimming missiles - fortunately only four missiles had been delivered before France cut off the supply. ( According to media reports the French manufacturers covertly provided technical advisers. ) Two British destroyers were lost when stationed like sitting ducks a hundred miles ahead of the task force to provide the only available form of early warning. Admiral Sandy Woodward had no other means for providing enough alarm time to keep his precious carriers afloat. When the opposing pilots met each other in air combat the result was beyond question - 27 aircraft shot down for no loss by the Royal Navy Sea Harrier pilots.
Supersonic land based aircraft proved no match for the sub-sonic though highly aerobatic naval jump-jets. Much credit goes to Kasper Weinberger, American Defence Secretary, who on his own initiative despatched supplies of the latest Sidewinder missiles and much else besides. None-the-less, the British pilots flew brilliantly, though our sailors could but admire the courage and skill of the Argentine pilots who repeatedly attempted low level attacks. Fortunately for the destroyers and frigates, many bombs had wrongly set fuses - but not all. Margaret Thatcher's government were extremely fortunate that so many bombs failed to explode - John Nott might have been hung from a lamp post if the navy had lost seventeen ships out of twenty-three because they were sent to war lacking elementary defence against old fashioned air attacks.
Other threats to the task force came from Argentina's single aircraft carrier - purchased from Holland though originally British – also from three surface ships including a large cruiser and most dangerous, modern submarines built in Germany. The plan was to attack the British from two directions with an air strike from the north off the carrier and a surface attack from the south. Fortunately only one submarine had been delivered from Germany and the boat was not ready for operations until late in the war. This vessel greatly worried the British task force and nearly sunk a destroyer. Light winds prevented the heavily laden Skyhawks from launching off the carrier otherwise the World might have witnessed the first battle between aircraft carriers since World War Two. The fate of the cruiser has been debated ever since - war is war but politicians leave the young to pay the price. Admiral Sandy Woodward, commanding the task force and as former a submariner himself, would have sunk the carrier as well had one of his nuclear submarines been near enough; at all costs he had to safeguard his carriers. After the loss of the General Belgrano, the Argentine ships effectively retreated to coastal waters. This allowed the amphibious force, including QE II and Canberra serving as troop ships to advance towards the islands for a landing.
Some months afterwards Admiral Sandy Woodward and General Jeremy Moore were guests at a banquet in their honour given by the RUSI in London. We turned the lecture theatre into a rather splendid dining room. The evening was the best at the Institute that I can remember during nearly six decades. ( I joined as a very young RE lieutenant. ) Sandy Woodward and Jeremy Moore ' sang for their suppers ' with the most superb double-act lecture that most of us had heard. They were impressive yet modest, above all candid, volunteered their personal reflections on where things had gone right and where they should have gone much better. Sandy Woodward flew his flag in HMS Hermes which had been converted from a commando carrier role with helicopters to a Harrier carrier. Only two years before her surviving sister ship, HMS Bulwark, following a fire in the engine room only a year after an expensive refit, had been paid off. Had the fire not happened, the task force might have sailed with two carriers the size of Hermes, plus Invincible and later Illustrious. That would have made an enormous difference to the air defence and striking power of the task force while providing a far higher safety margin were a carrier hit and damaged. Because there was no HMS Bulwark all the helicopters for the land campaign were loaded on board a container ship and lost when that ship took an Exocet. This drastically effected the land campaign; the Royal Marines and Paras walked across the islands. Whereas the old Bulwark - not to be confused with the modern ship - would have enabled them to launch multiple helicopter insertions from a safe distance out to sea, beyond the range of hostile aircraft. Had the old Ark Royal still been in commission no invasion would have taken place.
Why the Royal Navy needs enough warships. Streaked with rust after months at sea - HMS Hermes enters Portsmouth Harbour on return from the South Atlantic War – and ready for a lengthy refit. Naval airpower was the crucial weapon. Without it liberating the islanders would have been virtually impossible. Although not in the league of the old Ark Royal, the flight deck on Hermes operated up to 21 Harriers, 9 large Sea King helicopters, 2 Lynx and 2 Wessex - the latter also quite large helicopters. Compare this with the 10 Harriers, 9 Sea King and single Lynx on board Invincible and you see why the Royal Navy is sacrificing orders for destroyers and submarines to rejoin the big carrier league of World Navies. We need all three types of warship. The government's record is foolish.
GLOBAL INTERVENTION OPERATIONS
One begins to see the huge void between what is required for the Royal Navy and what successive governments provide. Keep in mind that the navy's present strength already needs boosting to cope with current intervention operations beyond the Suez Canal. Borrowing a name from the last century, the Atlantic Fleet, becomes shorthand for a force that can operate from Pole to Pole and with enough strength to cover the Mediterranean and Caribbean. One large aircraft carrier would be pushed to cover this vast ocean space. Two would be stretched. There is a strong argument for building a third large carrier. Ships need refits especially after long periods at sea. There is also a strong case for building a fourth aircraft carrier as the long distance insurance for our trade with our allies in the Far East and Pacific. We should have prolonged the three Invincible carriers and the Harrier force as a Fleet Air Arm reserve. David Cameron's plan to dispense with Ark Royal and the Harriers revealed an approach to his job that was both idle and stupid.
No doubt all sorts of arguments would be raised against these ideas and the proposed force but in a crisis only your existing hulls and aircraft count. At the very least we should have kept the older carriers and their aircraft until the fleet received its new major units - new commando carriers also were proposed although the government has gone very quiet on this project. Today warships need as much flexibility as possible built into their design because the best armed ship in the world cannot patrol two places at the same time. The proposal was for three large assault ships with full length flight decks as helicopter carriers though able to launch and recover the STOVL F 35 fighter. Similar vessels planned for the US Navy almost match the Royal Navy's large new aircraft carriers in size and weight. For some time the Royal Navy has been looking at a design nearer the size of HMS Hermes - about 30,000 tons - which is still 10,000 tons larger than the present HMS Ocean. An amphibious ready group - to borrow the US Navy's name - consists of an aircraft carrier, a helicopter carrier such as those shown below though known in the Royal Navy as an assault ship, plus one or two assault landing ships known as landing ships dock ( LSD ) and slightly smaller, less versatile versions - the latter known in contemporary Royal Navy jargon as LSD ( A ) for Auxiliary.
HMS Ocean at 20,000 tons weighs less than a third of the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers.
Part of the Falklands legacy is that the Royal Navy has a modern fleet for amphibious operations. My only question is whether speed was sacrificed to keep the costs down although the US Navy’s small aircraft carriers are not much faster. Otherwise, compared with 1982, the Royal Navy at least has one large ship with the ability to operate helicopters - meaning the equipment required to start, refuel and re-arm helicopters - and two smaller ships which can launch landing craft including vessels capable of delivering armour and equipment from long range onto a hostile shore. Like the pilots who fly from carrier decks, the Royal Marines need practise to keep their professional edge. Jeremy Moore said that the young men who captured Mount Longdon were not seasoned veterans but teen and twenties soldiers about to fight their first battle by attempting the most difficult operation, a brigade night attack against an alert foe. Thorough, regular training was the key to victory that night.
As the planet copes with climate change this fleet is just as likely to deploy for rescue and reconstruction tasks after a natural disaster. All the more reason why the Royal Navy and the Royal Engineers should take over a large proportion of the International Aid Budget - which in any case should return to supervision by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. At the moment we have two foreign policies - the real world and a happy clappy dreamland where the British taxpayers hand over billions each year to highly paid consultants advising corrupt and incompetent governments, no questions asked, no favours expected in return. The Chinese - who receive UK aid despite $ 3 trillion reserves - split their sides laughing every day all over Africa. We should also seek new alliances. Vietnam has many interests in common with our Commonwealth friends over the South China Sea as do Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan. During the First World War Japan was an ally and only American pressure after the First World War ended that alliance – one of the least clever moves of Woodrow Wilson, under pressure himself from his admirals.
At 40,000 tons USS Bataan is twice the size of HMS Ocean. Italy’s Cavour weighs 30,000 tons and has a ski-jump.
WHY THE NAVY?
Even the United States has limits to its military airlift. The US 82 Airborne Division keeps a company group at 2 hours readiness but to send off a battalion group requires 24 hours and a brigade group 48 hours - these are times for launching an opposed parachute assault with no integral helicopter assets. In other words, jumping into somebody's backyard, armed with whatever you can strap onto your body, shove in a kit bag or lash onto a heavy drop platform. During the last 26 years the US 82 Airborne Division and the 173 Airborne Brigade made combat jumps in the Caribbean, Central America, Iraq and Afghanistan. Britain has excellent airborne forces, nearly all parachutists, backed with plenty of attack helicopters, tempered by hard colonial combat, though woefully short of strategic airlift. The RAF would have to stop everything else for a week to deliver the whole 16 Air Assault Brigade from Britain to another continent, simply for an unopposed landing.
The invention of the steam turbine and oil fired boilers brought about a revolution in the reaction speed of naval forces. No longer was more than a day required to build up enough steam for the fleet to set sail. The invention of gas turbines brought a further revolution - instant power, instant departure. Nuclear power made possible limitless range. Yet after more than a century the speed of warships remains the same - even the US Navy is content with 34 knots as its big ships’ best speed on the surface - although it can look impressive!
USS Nimitz - 1092 feet of flight deck weighing 88,000 tons making a hard turn to port at her full speed of 34 knots.
A naval task force moving at 34 knots covers 39 miles every hour. A week at that speed could find them a long way from their home base. The US Navy has a nuclear powered fleet for this very reason. Moreover, their super carriers travel at 30 plus knots - the old USS America could hit 34 knots - that’s moving almost 950 miles a day and over 6,650 miles a week. Of course, normally, even in a hurry, a task force would sail at about 20 knots but that would still cover 500 miles a day. Anyone who has planned a long range airborne operation of brigade size will recognise that given calm weather the US Navy could leave San Diego early on Monday with full size Marine Corps divisions embarked and hit the viper wine bars of Pyongyang on Saturday night. Unlike an airborne force on the same mission, dependent on a follow-up force of Marines or the US 8th Army smashing its way through the DMZ to link with the paratroopers, the Marines would have no such worries. After landing in North Korea their supporting task force would cruise offshore or just over the horizon, providing air strikes and logistic support around the 24 hours.
An amphibious task force requires a sea supply line but it's never as isolated as an airborne force during those crucial first hours on hostile territory. Both types of force require rapid build-up and reinforcement. On D Day the airborne forces were supported by battleships and cruisers shooting at targets some distance inland. None-the-less, the airborne plan was changed so that the two US divisions jumped within close reach of each other, while from the start the British 6 Airborne Division plan relied on the seaborne commandos quickly getting off the beach and striking inland to link at the Pegasus Bridge. Modern amphibious forces, enjoying vastly better intelligence and meteorology techniques than was the norm before D Day, these days are capable of trans-oceanic assault landings.
Imagine another speed revolution. Suppose a naval task force could move at 40 or 60 even 100 knots in good weather over calm seas. About 70 years back the Royal Navy deployed four fast minelayers with a speed of 40 knots, quite large ships at 3500 tons while the French Navy's contemporary 2,600 ton destroyer, Le Terrible, at 45 knots remains the fastest large surface warship ever built. The minelayers ran supplies to Malta when the siege was at its tightest. A task force moving at 40 knots covers nearly 1,100 miles during 24 hours - put another way, leave Portsmouth at midnight on Sunday and reach Gibraltar around 11 pm on Monday. Base that force at Gibraltar and much of West Africa is 48 hours distant, all the Near East less than 72 hours distant with the Caribbean 84 hours distant. As an airborne force commander I would feel much happier leading my paratroopers out of an aircraft door over some exotic trouble spot - when I knew the navy was only hours over the horizon.
Artist’s impression of the present day USS America operating as a small aircraft carrier with a mix of F 35s and Osprey troop carriers plus SAR helicopters. Operational mixes could vary from 20 Ospreys with 6 F 35s to 20 F 35s with 4 SAR helicopters. The US Navy wisely are building a fleet of amphibious support ships that can also serve as small aircraft carriers. That would provide a fleet of twenty aircraft carriers in a major emergency.
Within the next three or four years our two super aircraft carriers will enter service and join HMS Ocean – herself due for replacement. We should build a third super carrier or two 40,000 ton smaller carriers able to operate the F 35 as well as Ospreys and SAR helicopters.
CHINA AND THE ' CARRIER KILLER ' MISSILE
Russia plans more aircraft carriers although the economic crisis slowed this programme. China intends to build six aircraft carriers. Already India proposes to build or buy a second aircraft carrier. When US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, announced a reduction of carrier battle groups from 11 to 10 but not for 20 years –wisely he gave the admirals plenty of time for squashing the plan. Not so long ago the US Navy had 14 carrier battle groups, all the more reason why their closest ally should bring forward and expand its new carrier programme. Just ignore the media and academic experts. I spent two years in Vietnam and saw what the US Navy could do with a balanced fleet. And that term of art is important. Some opposing the Royal Navy's new aircraft carriers lately claim that China has developed an ' aircraft carrier killer ' missile with long range and mounted on mobile launchers, designed to plunge at huge speed, directed by satellites that can track moving targets.
Such a control system has considerable vulnerability. For a start it relies on split second direction via satellites that cannot hide. The obvious way to neuter such a weapon is by taking out its satellites and command system. All complex supporting infra-structures are highly vulnerable to interdiction and destruction through cyber warfare. Ask the North Koreans how many of their test missile firings were splashed by NSA from Fort Meade. Another route is by destroying the launch vehicles but that is like hunting individual wasps rather than destroying their nests. Yet another option becomes open should the USAAF decide to go ahead with a successor to the B 2 Spirit bomber. Any new manned bomber aircraft would require survivability over hostile territory both day and night along with the ability to hunt and destroy multiple small moving targets. The USAF and RAF are both developing fast UAVs and maybe manned stealth aircraft will control swarms of stealth UAVs for this type of mission. Ships are not helpless. Witness the US Navy's test firings by Aegis Class destroyers that shot down ballistic missiles. Since then the US Navy has fitted much more powerful very long range missiles to the Aegis class destroyers. The US Navy has also shot down a satellite with a laser beam. The Americans have taught the Japanese Navy how to shoot down a ballistic missile. The Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyers have a radar system and missiles that simultaneously can track 300 targets while engaging and hitting sixteen targets no larger than cricket balls travelling at three times the speed of sound. No doubt the number crunchers will find a way to double, triple and multiply this performance many fold. To confront China, however, the Type 45 destroyers need longer range missiles similar to those carried by the Aegis class.
China puts a great deal of effort and money into a variety of missile systems against surface ships. Iran has been a customer and partner for many years with the aim of denying the inshore seas around Iran to NATO warships. Longer range weapons are probably intended to deter the US Navy from policing the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea and the waters around the Korean Peninsular. China risks catastrophe. Whatever the Russians may say behind closed doors, they are sensible, prudent people, and seek reductions in nuclear weapons, not escalation of nuclear threats. That leaves China, Iran and North Korea in a rather similar situation to Russia during the time of President Eisenhower when America's nuclear arsenal far out-stripped the Soviet Union's. America could cross the unthinkable threshold and deploy tactical nuclear weapons against China and its clients with relative impunity - given enough provocation.
JAW, JAW IS BETTER THAN WAR, WAR
Harold Macmillan visiting Australia in 1958 slightly improving the original version from Winston Churchill
The best way of avoiding a violent struggle lies along a path leading to democracy throughout China. Could this happen? The place to look is South Korea. In 1979 the president ( father of the recently impeached Mrs Park ) had been in power for seventeen years. He was shot across the dining table in his own palace. Taking advantage of the political confusion, Major-General Chun Doo Hwan, seized power with a military coup. ( I first met Chun in Vietnam in 1970 at his welcome party thrown by the ARVN Airborne Division – he came across as dour and maybe dodgy even then.) When spring came in 1980 the students began protesting in Kwangju, the big city of south-west Korea. What started as a peaceful student protest deteriorated into shooting and worsened until the protesters were massacred by Chun’s troops. The most prominent opposition leader, Kim Dae Jung, blamed for the uprising was gaoled and later placed under arrest in his home. South Koreans did not give up. Chun seized most of the media but one press baron stood his ground. Six years later the South Koreans hosted the Asian Games. Two years afterwards they hosted the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. The latter provided the students and opposition with a hostage. They rioted daily. Fearful that the games might be moved somewhere less volatile the generals in suits began to give ground. Democracy arrived like a tidal wave. Chun doo Hwan lost his iron grip and stepped down. A moderate general replaced him for the period of the Games. Elections soon followed. A decade after Kwangju the junta chief himself was tried and gaoled while his most prominent former political prisoner, Kim Dae Jung, resided in the presidential Blue House. The South Koreans won their democracy in remarkably similar political and economic circumstances to those prevailing now in China. All who helped the South Koreans remember those days during 1987 and 1988 with warmth and pride. China's students attempted to gain a foothold for democracy in 1989 though suffered brutal repression, hundreds losing their lives around Tiananmen Square. One can argue that Tiananmen was China's Kwangju – but when the Beijing Olympics came in 2008 there was no democratic movement hungry enough to take the same courageous path and risks as the South Korean students. None-the-less, a democratic victory in China remains possible.
Britain finds itself in a similar position to another island nation, Japan; competing for the world's resources and trade, relying on its brightest and most skilled, confronted by the same huge power ruled by its political aristocracy. Most global economic growth during the coming decades will happen in India and the Far East. For economic reasons, China is trying to grab control of the surrounding seas. China wants their fish and the oil and minerals from the seabed. China also wants to control the sea routes to places in Africa where they have bought the use of food producing land – colonised is a better description – through leases and deals with corrupt politicians. We cannot allow that and nor can our trading partners in the Far East and around the Indian Ocean. Sooner or later our relations with China - if that country remains under its Communist aristocracy - must settle into an uneasy truce or a long drawn out low intensity conflict. Nurturing democracy takes patience and time – when the tide turns there are no warning signs, success explodes like a flood tide, sweeping away the despots along with their corrupt cronies and secret policemen. We must wait patiently for the arrival of democracy’s flood tide and strong deterrence buys us peace during this time. A long and uneasy truce is much cheaper than years of low intensity warfare. We have to persuade the voters that we cannot avoid this fight, but at least the lower cost of deterrence through strength, thereby peace through an armed truce is a price well worth paying.
We are not getting much help from our political leaders. The coalition government in Britain led by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, by adopting the Liberal Party policy of disarmament and retreating within Europe, made a strategic blunder - one expects little else from politicians with little other experience but this says even less for their diplomats and also some of their military advisers. Reducing our nuclear deterrent and its protection, shrinking our navy and air force, under the circumstances described, are precisely the opposite of common sense.
The power to inflict lethal damage is not the only thing China's regime understands. They know all too well that many more people have much higher expectations than even twenty years ago, let alone the humble expectations of most peasants in 1949 when Mao and the Communists won the civil war by driving the middle classes onto the island of Taiwan. Less than two years later Mao invaded Korea with 300,000 and over the next three years lost 400,000 killed and near enough 500,000 wounded, far heavier casualties than during the civil war in China. Those days are gone and to stay in power the party must feed modern aspirations. The latter are the seeds of another ‘ hostage ’ dilemma, perhaps in the not too distant future. Within a year of winning their political freedom instead of earning US $ 100 a month, South Korean factory workers were earning that much every week. Suddenly it was cheaper to buy better quality steering gears and brakes for cars from the UK. The same went for everything from chemicals to specialised steels. Between 1986 and 1989 we more than doubled UK exports to South Korea. This wasn’t just on price. With the help of BBC and ITN we ran a successful campaign in Britain to encourage potential exporters to get their backsides on a plane seat and come and have a look at South Korea.
The safest course for Britain is to expand our trade with China while steadily restoring our naval strength. We will not achieve a trade surplus until we also restore our manufacturing and industrial base. Part of any trade strategy with China – not to mention Europe - must give a high priority to import substitution of manufactures. Let the Chinese make the cheap clothes and shoes but ourselves make the cars and aircraft, space equipment and medical equipment, everything from vacuum cleaners to robotics. In other words, do what we should have kept on doing, and what the Germans have been doing since 1945. The Korean War economic boom in the United States and Britain was led by a huge re-armament programme in both countries. During the 1950s we have a trade surplus in manufactures that was the equivalent value to 10% of GNP, larger than Germany’s today. We should make ourselves the heralds of a similar growth programme.
This strategy applies globally. One of the prizes of Brexit is that we and our Commonwealth friends can once more decide our own trade arrangements with each other. Don’t believe the remoaners in the media. Many firms keep strong links with the Commonwealth. We are the largest investor in India among the G 20 countries. The same applies to Latin America where we still have large investments and more often than not a trade surplus. Right up until we joined the EC several shipping lines served these markets with ships built in British yards. The EC killed much of this trade. Part of the EC plan was to break our global trading power. Germany and France build the cruise liners. Germany has the lion’s share of the world container business. Japan, then South Korea, and now China build and own the ships, largely because the trading centre of gravity has shifted to their corner of the planet. Brexit can shift the axis of world trade and reopen those trading routes around the Commonwealth and with Latin America. There will be business again for a modern Blue Star and Union Castle and all those other regional shipping lines. Let’s build the ships ourselves. We need members or friends in business to lobby with us and make sure that revival leads to an expansion of shipping under our flags – not Chinese nor German – but British and other Commonwealth flags, the flags of our trading partners in Latin America. We need to give life to easy slogans and insurance policies. Register your ships under the British flag and we’ll look after them. Such a strategy would raise the cash to restore tactical nuclear power and increase conventional strike power. Spread this among the Royal Navy's older and new aircraft carriers, moreover, among significantly increased numbers of surface ships and submarines. A larger Royal Navy with strategic and tactical nuclear weapons, plus much greater conventional fire power introduces another global player who makes China's leadership constantly stare over their shoulder while shadow boxing with the United States.
" The whole principle of navy fighting is to go anywhere with every damned thing the Navy possesses."
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Jackie Fisher in 1919
BLUE WATER NAVIES
Only five navies are capable of carrying out strategic naval operations anywhere on the planet. China has joined the club on probation but massive investment combined with years of training - on their own – might not buy membership of the senior league. Global experience and historical success underpin crucial confidence, discipline and morale. All the above are core ingredients for victory at sea.
US NAVY ROYAL NAVY + ALL RISK PREMIUM
10 Aircraft Carriers 2 Aircraft Carriers - build a third, even a fourth
9 Amphibious Assault Ships 1 HMS Ocean – replace with three modified USS America
2 Amphibious Command Ships Above class carries out this task
10 Amphibious Transport Docks Same again? Not sure what the experts would say.
12 Dock Landing Ships 3 present HMS Bulwark class plus 3 RFA?
52 Attack Submarines 7 Astutes – see immediately below.
14 Ballistic Missile Submarines 4 Vanguards – replace with 12 multi-role class
4 Guided Missile Submarines None – see immediately above
22 Cruisers None – add 10 Super-Darings*
63 Destroyers 19 ( 6 Darings and 13 Duke class* ) – add 16 Type 26
8 Littoral Combat Ships 4 – add 24 more like ocean going frigates manned by RNVR
11 Mine Countermeasures Ships 15 – add at least 15 manned by RNVR
13 Patrol Boats 18 - add 18 manned by RNVR for home waters
2 Submarine Tenders 5 large replenishment ships – as required for larger fleet
1 Technical Research Ship 5 survey ships – more as required
Super Darings would be a slightly larger stealth version armed with a combination of rail guns ( British Aerospace technology, their original test centre is in Scotland ) and missiles for surface, space and aerial targets. As the Type 26 ships come into service and the Dukes retire, the latter should become the core of a reserve fleet manned by RNVR. This would give the Royal Navy a force of 10 cruisers ( Super Darings ) and 34 destroyers in an emergency. Add 24 more ocean going frigates and the Royal Navy has a surface force of 68 ships to guard its major units and perform other tasks. That’s much closer to it’s Cold War strength and makes possible extended strategic operations. *
China has a large fleet with 2 aircraft carriers, 1 battlecruiser ( formerly Russian ), 14 ballistic missile submarines, 57 attack submarines, 33 destroyers, 54 frigates, 38 corvettes, 204 submarine chasers and patrol boats, plus all sorts of large and small support ships and amphibious warfare ships. China’s admirals have the advantage that their navy operates from a single coastline onto the same sea.
Russia’s navy has 1 aircraft carrier, 1 battlecruiser, 3 cruisers, 15 destroyers, 6 frigates, 81 corvettes, a large fleet of amphibious warfare ships of all sizes, many smaller patrol boats, 46 minesweepers, 13 ballistic missile submarines, 7 cruise missile submarines, 17 nuclear attack submarines, 24 diesel attack submarines plus 3 special-purpose submarines, supported by all manner of ships. Not all of this fleet is in good condition, the aircraft carrier suffers from break downs as have nuclear submarines. This fleet has an Achilles heel, it has to divide itself into four – the Northern Fleet, the Baltic Fleet, the Black Sea Fleet, and the Pacific Fleet.
France is the other nuclear power in Europe other than Russia. The French navy have 4 ballistic missile submarines and 6 nuclear attack submarines, 1 aircraft carrier and 3 amphibious assault ships, 13 destroyers although some are better described as frigates, 11 frigates, several patrol vessels and 19 minesweepers plus a number of support vessels. Again, the French navy has to spread itself over the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, cover French interests in the Caribbean, Gulf and Horn of Africa, Indian Ocean and Pacific.
The comparisons above suggest that as a matter of urgency our government should invest in the Royal Navy by expanding its submarine, cruiser and destroyer fleets; it is equally evident that doing so would give our country a significant global strategic impact. We sit astride Europe’s access to the Atlantic Ocean and beyond the wider world. Our historic naval strategy was enough patrol ships to blockade the Continent while the battle fleets roamed far and wide. Nelson chased the French fleet from the Mediterranean across the Atlantic and back before he caught the combined French and Spanish fleets and brought them to battle off Cape Trafalgar. The US Navy does not have this geographical luxury. The US Navy has to divide its strength between three coasts and all seven seas. Japan is the other island kingdom in a similar position, anchored off a major continent, able to control the waters and shipping routes around Indo-China, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Korea and Far Eastern Russia. Japan may soon join the ‘ blue navy club ’ but at the moment lacks the full spectrum of naval air power, aircraft carriers that can launch modern strike fighters, not because they lack the technology and skills but there remains strong political opposition - a legacy of World War Two. Japan has a large destroyer and frigate force and one could see Royal Navy carrier groups with the escort forces boosted by Japanese reinforcements and supported from Japanese naval bases. I foresee lots of work for our diplomats over the coming years.
A TALE OF TWO SHIPS
' When you're on the phone to Downing Street this morning, Adrian, remind the lady who ordered all those ships that she's sending south.'
Former Prime Minister the late Jim Callaghan ( who served in the Royal Navy) discussing the latest news from the South Atlantic during spring 1982 over a coffee with
Adrian in a downtown Ottawa hotel.
HMS Richmond fires a Harpoon missile.
Britain had not fought a war at sea for almost forty years – apart from the threat from Egypt’s navy in 1956 to the Mediterranean Fleet off Suez and a similar threat from Indonesia’s navy during Confrontation over Malaysia from 1966-1969 – and when Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands in April 1982. Many lessons were relearned by a generation that had never fought a full-out war at sea. After the South Atlantic War, despite some close shaves, ended successfully, the Royal Navy replaced its utility Type 21 Frigates with the larger and more powerfully armed Type 23 Destroyers. Thirty-five years have gone by since that war and another generation of naïve politicians is taking decisions for which they are not qualified. We are in danger of making the same mistakes – equipping the Royal Navy with lightly armed small frigates/patrol boats designed for export when the job is one for heavily armed destroyers - and this time the potential enemies are Russia and China.
Top photo Type 21 Light Destroyer – HMS Amazon making a high speed turn – from the bow are the 4.5 gun, four single launch tubes for Exocet surface skimming missiles range 22 miles. Amidships Chaff launchers and either side single barrel 20mm cannons aimed by the Mark One human eyeball. Another pair of 20mms were fitted later. Further aft on either side are triple anti-submarine torpedo tubes. A quadruple Sea-Cat short range ( up to 4 miles ) anti-aircraft missile launcher is mounted on the roof of the hangar for the helicopter carried - Wasp or Lynx during the South Atlantic War.
Right Type 23 Destroyer - HMS Somerset making a high speed turn - from the bow are the 4.5 gun, vertical launch battery for Seawolf short range anti-aircraft missiles( up to 10 miles) and twin quadruple launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles with a range of 80 miles. Amidships, slightly forward, either side of the funnel are close-defence AAA positions - at the time of this photo 30mm cannon but nowadays Phalanx. Decoy and chaff launchers are fitted along the deck and super-structure. Decoys are small missiles that lure and confuse a sea-skimming missile. Chaff is a round which bursts near the ship, throwing out clouds of plastic shards to confuse the radar homing on a sea-skimming missile. Tubes for anti-submarine torpedoes are fitted aft where the flight deck and hangar for the helicopter are placed.
The Type 21 was the first privately designed warship class built for the Royal Navy. The idea was a fast lightly armed, general purpose ship that would attract export orders from countries as varied as Argentina and Iran. They were built with a steel hull and large amounts of alloy in the superstructure to save weight. This caused worries after a fire melted parts of the superstructure and later splits in the metal when confronted with extremely cold weather. Later warships reverted to using steel. The gun suffered from a blind fire arc and the Sea-Cat system has been described as over-engineered. No long range radar was fitted, probably because no long range anti-aircraft missile was fitted. As a submarine hunter the Type 21s lacked the limbo mortar to exploit their sonar and were too small for being refitted with the new towed array sonars. Where they proved worth their weight in gold was their ability to come close inshore and put down extremely accurate naval gunfire. Alacrity and Arrow searched the Falkland Sound for mines before the landings. Alacrity sank and Argentine supply ship. Exiting the sound at daybreak, Arrow was nearly sunk by the Argentine Navy’s diesel powered, German built submarine, San Luis, but her first torpedo struck Arrow’s towed decoy – as was its purpose – while the second struck the hull but failed to arm itself. Because of the light upper works the class carried a lot of ballast. Even so, they could hit 37 knots for a short spurt and two captains vowed they had hit 40 knots. Two were sunk in San Carlos Water and the six survivors eventually served with the Pakistan Navy.
After the South Atlantic War the Royal Navy replaced four destroyers sunk and repaired another five. The navy also made a thorough reappraisal of its ant-aircraft and missile defences. Shortcomings of radar and guidance systems had been a contributing factor to the high number of lost and damaged ships. None of the ships carried long range radar. The aircraft carriers had no AEW aircraft to compensate. None of the radars had been designed to neither isolate targets attacking from a coastal background nor deal with criss-crossing multiple targets. The missile launchers had not been tested in combat and faults occurred leading to the loss of at least one destroyer. None of the ships had radar controlled close defence weapons capable of shooting down an incoming missile. To make up for these short-comings Admiral Sandy Woodward paired Type 22 frigates armed with Sea Wolf with Type 42 Anti-Aircraft Destroyers armed with the long range ( 80 nautical miles ) Sea Dart. This combination was nick-named the Type 64. As the pairing was a tried in combat the snags that arose from combat and had to be resolved during combat. On 30 May 1982, during the last Exocet air attacks against the British fleet, the most successful engagements with Sea Dart occurred and HMS Exeter was credited with two Skyhawks (out of four attackers) downed, despite them flying only 35–50 feet above the sea (theoretically below Sea Dart's minimum engagement altitude of 100 feet). One of the two was engaged by HMS Avenger with her 4.5 gun. On 6 June HMS Exeter downed a Learjet 35A (destroying its tail) that was being used as reconnaissance aircraft at 40,000 feet but missed a second one. HMS Exeter was fitted with a more modern radar than her sister ships.
On the night of 6 June 1982 HMS Cardiff fired two Sea Dart missiles at an aircraft believed to be an Argentine C-130 Hercules. The missiles destroyed the aircraft, which was in fact a British Army helicopter flying a friend on mine, Major Mike Forge, and three of his team up to Fitzroy Cove where Mike was going to set up an advance signals post so that warnings of incoming air attacks could be relayed to the Welsh Guards. All four occupants were killed in this "friendly-fire" incident. The tragic consequence was the subsequent lack of warning before the air attack on the ships delivering the Welsh Guards to Fitzroy Cove.
On 13 June 1982, an Argentine Canberra flying at 40,000 ft en route to bomb British troops at Port Harriet House was destroyed by a Sea Dart fired from HMS Cardiff.
HMS Manchester an older Type 42 destroyer armed with the long range Sea Dart missile against aircraft though after the war, fitted with Phalanx close defence weapons against sea skimming missiles. Admiral Sam Salt, who commanded her sister ship, HMS Sheffield, sunk by an Exocet, told me that one of the problems with Sea Dart was that the mechanical parts of its launcher froze in the near enough Antarctic weather. Sailors would brave the freezing wind to pour kettles of boiling water over the launchers’ moving parts.
HMS Chatham, a Type 22 frigate though larger than a Type 42 destroyer. Again the lessons of the South Atlantic are visible from stem to stern. The 4.5 gun has been added on the later and lengthier ships forward of the Seawolf battery, astride the bridge superstructure are quadruple harpoon launchers and along the deck, either side of the funnel, Goalkeeper similar to the Phalanx system. The after Seawolf battery is visible on the hangar roof. These were large, well-armed ships with the latest towed array sonar.
Sleek thoroughbred lines, few vertical surfaces and right angles, almost no round shapes, a specially cooled funnel all contribute to a stealthy destroyer with the radar signature of a small fishing boat - HMS Daring weighs 7,500 tons fully loaded. Yet to my eyeballs, she’s half-armed. Where are the long range ballistic missile killers, the long range surface target killers, not missiles but rail guns developed by British Aerospace? Let’s get the best from these graceful warships.
USS Independence and RN Type 26
TWO SHIPS, SEVEN SEAS, TOO MANY JOBS
One photograph shows the US Navy's answer to dangerous coastal waters off Africa, the Persian Gulf and Far Eastern waters. The US Navy is planning to build around 50 ships on these advanced lines; that's quite a commitment. The other photograph shows an impression of the future Type 26 Global Patrol Ship with her conservative lines, replacement for the Type 23 destroyer and the Type 22 frigate.
The US Navy has met the speed challenge – with a three-thousand ton vessel with a top speed of 47 knots and fuel tanks for a 1500 mile sprint at around 40 knots given state 3 sea conditions. In other words, she can out run many torpedoes, sail from San Francisco to Hawaii within 24 hours and with positioned refuelling ships, cross the Atlantic in two days. Although I think the US Navy have their eyes on the Gulf of Hormuz, the Malacca Strait and the South China Sea.
USS Independence has a vast helicopter deck for a 3,000 ton ship and the potential to operate many kinds of drone. She can support amphibious operations and carry small numbers of Seals and Marines. She has missiles although the present anti-air threat missiles are very short range. The original design called for a mix of long, medium and short range defensive missiles plus small calibre guns. Compared with the Type 26 concept, she seems incredibly mobile though rather lightly armed. Critics maintain that for $ 700 million each she ought to pack more punch. That said, the US Navy appears realistic, accepts that they may have to fight for sea supremacy, and have begun developing all sorts of missiles to replace their existing armoury, many of which are twenty years old.
Type 26 represents a much more careful advance towards the future. She looks very similar to the Type 22 but has stealth built into her design through shape and materials. She weighs 5,400 tons which gives plenty of space for a variety of missiles and electronic suites. She will carry the new Sea-Ceptor missile system against aircraft and sea skimming missiles. Another missile will be carried for long range targets. The hangar is large enough for both helicopters and drones. There is enough space for carrying Royal Marine Commandos and other special forces and the stern is designed for launching small landing craft. The plan is that she will carry the new Oto-Melara 5 inch automatic gun - 30 rounds a minute, various warheads, plus extended range rounds that can reach 120 kilometres for surface targets and shore support. This gun has a dual role as an anti-aircraft weapon. Phalanx will be fitted fore and aft. She's not fast - 30 knots with a chasing sea - but she's designed to cruise for six weeks without refuelling.
MOD were talking about only 13 ships. Moreover, even this number depended on price, thus the Royal Navy found itself under pressure to reduce the fighting power of the ships to save money and make the bean counters happy. Now they’re talking of only 8 ships. The reality is that a further order for the Type 26 of 8 more is required. Furthermore, a second batch of frigates/destroyers needs ordering, designed with the staying power of the Type 26 plus mobility and speed nearer those of the USS Independence. Anyone who visited Portsmouth Harbour over the last twenty years has seen Vosper's Triton - a tri-marine experimental ship speed fleet is perfectly possible, as it was when the Dreadnought was conceived.
Don't tell me that data no longer exists. Of course it does, and some foresight with a lot more imagination will restore the Royal Navy's fighting strength.
Back to the Future - DDG 1000 named after the distinguished Admiral Elmo Zumwalt - showing an artist's impression of the ship in action, the classic alternative layouts for her gun turrets, the real ship after floating from the build dock and taking her first swim in the Kennebec River at Bath, Maine.
The town is all about building ships and systems for the US Navy. Compare the busy future of Bath, Maine with the sacking of highly qualified naval architects in Bath, England by a government who do not understand the value of a strong navy to an island nation. Moreover, the US Defence Department seems to manage their new construction programme so that the oldest yards do not close but win enough work to keep going. This appears to remain beyond British politicians and BAE's management.
The big mistake of the British Government over the last fifty years has been to find money savings by cutting the Royal Navy. Eventually the Royal Navy was bound to reach a point where a steady ship building programme became no longer possible. The root cause of the closure of Portsmouth's BAE ship building yard is that only six Type 45 destroyers have been built instead of the original twelve ordered, the new aircraft carriers were delayed for serving as an election bribe by Labour under Gordon Brown, and the new Type 26 frigate programme has been delayed as a political bribe to Scotland by David Cameron.
They should all be hung from the yard arm around six o'clock one fine evening - after which, we the voters, can all celebrate with a well earned drink!
USS Zumwald heading for the Atlantic Ocean
The US Navy extended the Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer programme rather than order 32 of the new Zumwalt class destroyers - at 14,500 tons fully loaded more akin to heavy cruisers. Zumwalt resembles a Dreadnought with her ram bow. No doubt the admirals will fight their corner and more than three Zumwalt destroyers eventually join the fleet. With land attack as the prime mission, these new warships represent a leap forward as regards stealth technology and naval gun design. Ultimately the US Navy intend to fit the ships with rail-guns - technology invented 90 years ago but only now really practical. Rail-guns work through electric pulses propelling non-explosive rounds at several times the speed of sound over ranges beyond 200 miles. Rates of fire around ten rounds a minute are regarded as possible. Meanwhile the first destroyer is armed with the BAE advanced gun system - the gun has a 6.1 inch calibre ( 155mm ) with a range of 24 nautical miles for a conventional round and 100 nautical miles for a long range round. That's 44 and 180 kilometres for younger, metric people in the UK. Ten rounds a minutes gives the two turret ship a rate of fire greater than a medium artillery regiment. The obvious next stage is precision guided surface to surface rounds against hostile ships. The US Navy has chosen Rolls-Royce gas turbines to power these new destroyers at 30 knots best speed. Questions remain about their sea worthiness in heavy weather but the US Navy and the contractors remain calm!
The Royal Navy should order Super-Darings armed with rail guns and multiple range missiles against air and space targets.
REACH AND NUMBERS
Although half the Zumwalt's displacement, when fully armed with her SAM missiles, a new 6.1 gun, Phalanx, next generation versions of Harpoon and Tomahawk missiles, plus anti-submarine torpedo tubes, HMS Daring will provide the Royal Navy with a smaller version of the Zumwalt concept at a quarter of the unit cost. As described above, the original plan for twelve Daring class destroyers provides the Royal Navy with a powerful core force able to switch from task force protection to independent strategic missions - right across the spectrum from diplomacy and disaster relief to cruise missile bombardment. Twelve ships met the common sense need for one for one replacement of the fleet - at that time eight Type 42 destroyers and four Type 22 frigates. Thereby the Royal Navy maintained its core anti-aircraft surface force though with vastly improved general fighting power. With only six new Daring class ships launched, the best way to maintain twelve is by ordering another six, Super-Darings - faster, better armed, longer range.
Rail guns are an idea almost as old as the idea of using electricity to power machines. The British MOD and American Department of Defenc began work on a rail gun in 1993 with BAE testing a 32-megajoule installation at the Kirkcudbright Electromagnetic Launch Facility at the Dundrennan Range on the Solway Firth in south-west Scotland. The Electro-Magnetic Laboratory Rail Gun is a long-range naval weapon that fires projectiles using electricity instead of chemical propellants. Magnetic fields created by high electrical currents accelerate a sliding metal conductor, or armature, between two rails to launch projectiles at 4,500 mph to 5,600 mph. Electricity generated by the ship is stored over several seconds in the pulsed power system. Next, an electric pulse is sent to the railgun, creating an electromagnetic force accelerating the projectile to Mach 7.5. Using its extreme speed on impact, the kinetic energy warhead eliminates the hazards of high explosives in the ship and unexploded ordnance on the battlefield.
The US Navy program was initiated in 2005. The goal during Phase I of a proof-of-concept demonstration at 32 mega-joule muzzle energy has been achieved. A future weapon system at this energy level would be capable of launching a projectile to a range of 100-nautical miles. This launch energy has the advantage of being able to stress many components to evaluate full-scale mechanical and electromagnetic forces. Phase I focused on the development of launcher technology with adequate service life, development of reliable pulsed power technology and component risk reduction for the projectile. BAE was awarded the contract to build the prototype in July 2006. ( They already had the test one in Scotland so it sounds as though the original installation remains. ) On December 10, 2010, the U.S. Navy made history at the Naval Surface Warfare Center-Dahlgren Division with the Laboratory Railgun. A 33-Megajoule shot was fired, the energy equivalent of 110 nautical miles range. In 2012, during Phase 1 of the INP programme, engineers at the Naval Surface Warfare Center successfully fired the EM Railgun prototype at tactical energy levels.
Phase II started in 2012 and plans to advance the technology for transition to an acquisition program, concentrating on demonstrating a repeated rate fire capability. Thermal management techniques required for sustained firing rates will be developed for both the launcher system and the pulsed power system. The first industry-built launcher, a 32-megajoule prototype demonstrator made by BAE Systems, arrived at the Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren in January 2012. This particular rail gun delivers fire up to 220 miles range, around ten times the capable distance of standard ship mounted guns with rounds landing more swiftly and with little or no warning compared to a volley of Tomahawk cruise missiles. The rounds are solid, no explosive is required, huge velocity does the damage.
So far these two contracts with the US Navy have cost about US $ 67 millions – about £ 50 millions at the low exchange rates over the period. BAE started their research with a joint US/UK programme. The results will change naval warfare. Now think of the billions raised from our taxes that are spent bailing out banks, squandered by the EC, prop up countless failing states all over the planet, then ask yourself why all these highly educated young brains throughout politics and government seem to own no common sense whatsoever.
We should either plug ourselves into the rail gun programme or launch a programme ourselves. I suspect the US Navy would be happy with the prospect of several more allied warships armed with rail guns. In parallel, we should launch a programme to develop reliable generation of high levels of electric power. Daring class destroyers have suffered power failures in hot climates – without rail guns. A third programme should investigate the use and design of drones to exploit the 220 mile range of rail guns.
RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP
Trident is our deterrent but no longer fully independent and maybe no longer fire proof? The patrol aircraft - cost £ 4 billions - that make sure our nuclear submarines are not trailed, have been axed by David Cameron with his laughable coalition defence plan. We have a third of the destroyers and frigates we need. Liberal policy of nuclear disarmament sneaked through the back door of Downing Street although the voters remain blissfully ignorant. The Labour Party leader is a lifelong protestor against nuclear weapons. Don’t believe a word he says about supporting the replacement of our Trident submarines- only that he would not fire one after a nuclear attack on his own fellow countrymen, women and children.
The Labour Party claim to support Britain replacing the present four Vanguard Class submarines equipped with Trident missiles for a new generation of submarines and missiles. This is not plausible with Corbin as their leader. The Liberal-Democrat Party would do away with a British nuclear deterrent.
Over the last six decades Britain and the United States have worked together on nuclear propulsion, nuclear fission and missile technology. This saves the British taxpayers a great deal of money which otherwise would go towards research and years of brainwork. Perhaps the greatest bonus is that the submariners of our two navies might as well belong to the same service, such is the teamwork, taking us back to a reverse of the days before the War of Independence when a third of the Royal Navy were North Americans. Most of the design and technology for the Vanguard submarines is British and the vessels were built at Vickers yard in Barrow-on-Furnace. Our industry keeps up with the cutting edge of high technology.
They are the third largest submarine class ever built - at nearly 16,000 tons larger than a heavy cruiser and at 150 metres equally long. Vanguard class submarines are armed with 16 silos for firing the Trident D5 missile - loaded with a total 128 MIRV warheads - although the missiles will support 12 MIRV warheads therefore 16 silos could fire 192 MIRV warheads. The vessels have 4 tubes for the Spearfish torpedo. A variety of towed and other sonar enable the vessels to escape detection by submarines, surface ships and aircraft. Their nuclear reactors which create steam for the turbines have a life of 20 years and thereby provide unlimited range at 25 knots underwater. Their complement is 135 officers and ratings. The job of a Vanguard class submarine is to carry out a six months long patrol without detection while always ready to fire her Trident missiles which have a range of 7,000 miles.
Only a single city on the planet has a defence system against ballistic missiles, Moscow, and the Trident D5 has a British designed system, code-named Chevaline, intended to confuse and thwart these defences. Perfecting this system cost a fortune, so much money that Harold Wilson hid the costs from his Chancellor, Denis Healey, on grounds of national security! Warheads are not simply for obliterating cities. Air bursts on such a massive scale will knock out sophisticated defence systems. A naval force might deploy nuclear air bursts to sweep away the enemy defences before its aircraft carriers come into action. These would be fired from ballistic missile submarines – for example at China’s command and control system for carrier-killer missiles, paving the way for the carrier air groups to destroy targets with tactical nuclear weapons. At least one Vanguard class submarine is on patrol at all times, armed with missiles designed to attack multiple targets.
Overall this force provides a credible ' Cold War Era ' deterrent, capable of delivering a devastating second strike from an arsenal of slightly less than 200 nuclear weapons. The UK nuclear force has a single form of response, massive; there is no layering, no single warhead or tactical nuclear capability. In other words, not quite MAD but the deterrent’s threat is terrifying revenge. Moreover, we could respond at once to an attack from a distant place.
The lack of any means of delivering tactical nuclear weapons makes our deterrent posture dangerously inflexible. We cannot destroy Russian airfields, ports or massed tanks with smaller nuclear warheads because Tony Blair and others gave them up. All we can do is wipe out Moscow and many other big cities as revenge for attacks on London, Birmingham, Glasgow, Manchester and so forth. The decision to fire our Trident missiles is passed by our weak politicians via those famous Prime Ministers’ letters to the commanders of the surviving Vanguard submarines on patrol.
THERE'S MORE THAN ONE WAY TO CLOBBER A CAT
Advance guard of a new kind of warfare, Boeing’s hypersonic X 51 Wave Rider. On the 1 May 2013 an experimental unmanned aircraft developed for the US Air Force flew at more than five times the speed of sound. The test off California marked the fourth and final flight of a Boeing X-51A by the Air Force – and a breakthrough in scramjet technology. The aircraft achieved a velocity of Mach 5.1 (4828 km/h) at 60,000 feet (18,288 meters) making it hypersonic – any speed more than Mach 5 - and travelled 230 miles in just over six minutes. The X-51A is known as the Wave Rider because it stays airborne, in part, with lift generated by the shock waves of its own flight. After being dropped from a B-52 bomber, a solid-rocket booster is used in the initial phase of the plane’s flight to accelerate it up to the speed which allows the engine to take over by drawing in air through the craft’s forward momentum.
BEYOND THE HORIZON
A truly independent nuclear deterrent requires its own communications and navigation systems. That demands a real space programme or else rather more ambitious British participation in the American’s space and other advanced technology programmes. Much more thought is needed about the whole spectrum of threats and counter measures including consequent targets. Any curiosity about the defences that hostile missiles could encounter would offer a sensible start. As far as one can tell from government public statements, there hasn't been very much. Perhaps I'm wrong but one can only judge from what the government tells us about their purchases for our defence. Only when these questions are investigated will the kind of counter measures and cost numbers become clear. For the moment, let's assume that my suspicions are justified. Russian nuclear tactics aim to overwhelm the opposing defences with massed multiple re-entry warheads. That argues for taking out their missiles on the launch site or certainly before they release their multiple warheads.
Parliament voted in favour of replacing our deterrent but the political delays had a price and the government must prolong the life of the present Vanguard submarines beyond 2020, thereby maintaining instant response and global reach. This also maintains the Moscow standard of target defence penetration. Delay gives time for reflection. Are there alternatives to building four dedicated submarines armed with a new generation Trident? What if an improved and slightly larger version of the Astute class boats could carry some Trident 5 missiles and do the job? Let’s call them the super Astute class. Now I simply do not know whether the Astute design is as stealthy as the future Dreadnought class or lends itself to modification that would meet that standard. Even if it does not, deterrent capable or not, Britain still needs the means to deliver tactical weapons at short and medium ranges including at sea. The Royal Navy urgently needs more ships and submarines. Thus an argument exists, anyhow, for building more Astute class submarines. There is a further aspect. Shouldn’t we look at the next generation of weapons, both for defence and offence? Because we might be buying a deterrent that is out of date already.
Leave aside all the arguments over whether swarms of underwater drones one day could make hiding impossible for nuclear deterrent submarines. Focus on weapons. The obvious disadvantage with cruise missiles is that they fly at sub-sonic speeds, leaving them vulnerable against strong air defences. Although only this April, despite ninety minutes warning, the Russians and Syrians failed to shoot down a single Tomahawk cruise missile fired by two US Navy destroyers. The latest version of the Tomahawk can make rapid changes of course while flying very low and there is something much faster under development. See photo above. Boeing are working on a new hypersonic missile employing ram jet technology that has reached Mach 5.1 during trials. This programme could offer a missile that has no need of an explosive warhead such is the shock from its impact. Hypervelocity makes it extremely hard to shoot down while it’s capable of considerable accuracy. Presently on tests, the X51 Wave rider is launched from a bomber and starts its flight as a glider. Meanwhile the US Navy is looking into submarine launched hypersonic missiles.
American ships and submarines are gradually switching to launch systems that can fire a variety of missiles and even submersible vessels from large diameter tubes known as CWLs or Common Weapon Launchers, otherwise CMCs, Common Missile Containers. A large diameter allows the tube to load and fire mixed weapons including the next generation of hypersonic cruise missiles when they come into service. Four of the new Ohio class submarines are being fitted out this way and the US Navy also has a design on the drawing board for a 12,000 tons triple role submarine. This latter boat would carry Tridents, cruise and hypersonic missiles, submersible vessels, plus seal teams and other special forces – offering a patrol submarine that can undertake deterrent and conventional patrols, tactical strike missions and special operations. Britain’s new Dreadnought class could be fitted with CWLs/CMCs thereby gaining the capability to launch hypersonic weapons at some future date. Let us suppose that before long hypersonic missiles will launch from the same CWL/CMCs that fire cruise missiles. This argues for a super Astute class submarine. Indeed, providing its ability to avoid detection matches the new Dreadnought standard, the possibility arises that super Astute Class submarines ( they could keep Dreadnought as the class name ) on rotation could perform nuclear and hypersonic deterrent patrols, tactical strikes and special operations.
Malcolm Chalmers at the RUSI produced a sensible paper on the nuclear deterrent which among others included a similar suggestion. The paper proposed that the new Trident submarines could also be designed as patrol submarines capable of deterrent duties. The paper only suggested four boats whereas I think we should build six or eight boats. Even if only four launch tubes were loaded with Trident, so long as the deterrent patrol submarines operate covertly, greater uncertainty is achieved because several submarines may carry deterrent missiles while performing conventional patrols. The arithmetic speaks for itself. Four new Dreadnought submarines each with twelve launch tubes on rotation allow just a single Dreadnought on deterrent patrol at all times. In other words, our deterrent provides twelve launch tubes twenty-four hours a day every day of the year. Three new patrol submarines armed with four Tridents each would provide the same deterrent. Suppose, however, that we build eight super Astutes, then arm all eight with a mix of missiles that in the not so distant future, includes hypersonic. With all eight super Astute class capable of serving on tactical or strategic deterrent patrols, the Royal Navy could keep two or three on rotation or standby during low alert periods. When a high level alert occurred the navy could send to sea up to five or six nuclear submarines armed with four CWLs/CMCs loaded with nuclear, hypersonic rounds or sub-sonic cruise missiles.
The declared budget of about £ 31 billions for the Dreadnought submarines would build a further eight super Astute class submarines and complete the originally planned programme of twelve Type 45 Daring class destroyers with all twelve Darings armed properly. At present they are not. America’s aegis destroyers sail with a layered missile defence that can shoot down anything from close range wave skimming missiles to ICBMs. Their long range ICBM interceptors have over a thousand miles reach. Daring’s radar and electronics can track multiple targets. What they lack is firepower against space and surface targets. Nearly all the design and development work for both the Astute and Daring classes has been done, leaving mostly the construction costs for the extra submarines and destroyers and their proper armament. Eight super Astute class vessels would cost possibly £12 billions and six more Daring class about £ 10 billions when properly armed. At a moment of crisis early shooting down the Russian ICBMs may be the optimal defence move and a dozen AAA destroyers welcome. Moreover, our new aircraft carriers would gain Aegis standard protection from their Daring escorts. Tactical nuclear and conventional/or hypersonic weapons could be launched from our submarines and destroyers and by strike fighters from our new aircraft carriers. This option provides a much more versatile and elusive deterrent force with the bonus of fourteen significant additions to the Royal Navy's, frankly, dangerously anorexic grey line – while leaving potential foes challenged by the core ingredient of an effective deterrent: or to quote Mervyn King, radical uncertainty.
In 2003 the US Department of Defence proposed a new research mission—conventional prompt global strike (CPGS)—that sought to provide the United States with the ability to strike targets anywhere on Earth with conventional weapons in as little as an hour, without relying on forward based forces. The most important aspect of this CPGS program was that it focussed on the delivery of conventional rather than nuclear impacts.
The Conventional Prompt Global Strike programme has developed weapons capable of performing a highly precise non-nuclear strike anywhere in the world within an hour of making the decision to attack. The development of CPGS after remotely operated drones and Aegis missiles, relied, instead, on delivering a non-explosive force to the target at a speed of almost five to ten times the speed of sound – hypersonic weapons travel at extremely high speeds, anywhere from 3,840 to 16,250 miles an hour. A hypersonic weapon launched from New York could reach Moscow in less than 40 minutes. By comparison, a Boeing 777 would make the same trip in eight and a half hours.
AHW is designed to provide a 6,000km range with 35-minutes flight and achieve less than ten metre accuracy. It delivers a conventional payload at medium and global ranges, using a hypersonic glider. The weapon’s high manoeuvrability allows it to avoid flight over third party nations when approaching the target. Its precision guidance system homes in on the target. One might argue that at such a speed, third parties would be just glad when it left their patch of sky.
The most prominent version of hypersonic weapons currently under development are ‘ boost-glide ’ weapons. These are missiles that, instead of arcing into space before coming down on their target, are fired at a shallow trajectory that barely exits the atmosphere. After reaching a hypersonic speed, the missile’s warhead is released and glides the rest of the way to its target. As the weapon begins to glide, its relatively shallow angle of approach makes it extremely difficult to track and defend against. Imagine RAF strike aircraft launching hypersonic missiles over the arc of Norwegian Sea, aimed at clusters of dachas owned by Putin’s elite, enjoying a fine weekend near Moscow. How many minutes before impact, fifteen, ten, less? We’re back to the days of the V bombers with stand-off missiles.
Kinetic bombardment has the advantage of being able to deliver projectiles from a very high angle at a very high speed, making them extremely difficult to defend against. Projectiles at this velocity do not require explosive warheads. Using hypersonic weapons means that there is no need to deploy missiles, aircraft or other vehicles on a continuous basis; even from space platforms - other than to confuse potential foes. Although the 1979 SALT II Treaty prohibited the deployment of orbital weapons of mass destruction, it did not prohibit the deployment of conventional weapons. The system is not prohibited by either the Outer Space Treaty or the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
The use of AHW weapons offers a possibility of reacting swiftly to emerging crises. Imagine a satellite spotting a North Korean nuclear missile rolling out of its cave and that sighting triggers a hypersonic warhead, destroying the nuclear missile before it can be fired. Imagine a hypersonic weapon tearing through the complex layered defences of ‘ anti-access/area denial ’ systems before Russian or Chinese missile batteries can get a good enough radar lock to shoot it down. Imagine scores of AHW missiles screaming towards Russia at Mach 20, each one a pinpoint strike hitting the Kremlin’s nuclear missiles, military radars, submarine bases. Within minutes, 80 percent of Russia’s nuclear arsenal could be destroyed without the United States launching a single nuclear weapon of its own. Russia’s ability to strike back could be eliminated or severely degraded.
Hypersonic weapons are useful for destroying A2/AD capabilities but of limited use in the battle theatre. The need for battlefield lethality has led to the concomitant development of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW). Perhaps most striking is the Electromagnetic Rail Gun which can fire a projectile with colossal speed. The projectile looks rather like a tank gun sabot round, discarding its jacket as it leaves the muzzle. The round travels at hypervelocity and has a range of a hundred miles. Again, its speed of impact is the destructive power, and the ambition is guided rounds. No explosives are involved. Only the rounds need magazine space. Rail guns make mini-nukes rather obsolete. No wonder the US Navy would like to arm the Zumwalt destroyers with rail guns that can shoot two-hundred miles.
Laser technology has come a long way in recent years and offers another means of instant direct fire against all manner of targets. Laser weapons engage a target at the speed of light. That’s better than any Aegis missile if you want to kill attacking ICBMs. Add all this together and one begins to wonder if renewing a second strike force is the wrong way to go, rather wiser to design and build a pre-emptive CPGS force to hit the hostile launchers, missiles, satellites, command and control systems before they can attack. There is also an argument for a second strike by CPGS weapons on the hostile country’s armed forces, government and economy.
HMS Astute, latest nuclear attack submarine, makes her first surface.
ASTUTE CLASS - FLEET SUBMARINE
Displacement: 7,000 tonnes surfaced, 7,800 tonnes
dived. Dimensions, metres: 97.0 x 11.3 x
Main Machinery: 1 modified Rolls-Royce PWR-2 pressurized water reactor; 2 sets GEC- Alston geared turbine drive; 1 shaft with pump jet propulsion; 27,500 shp. 2 Paxman auxiliary diesels. Astute class boats are powered by a reactor and fitted with a pump jet propulsor. The PWR2 reactor was developed for the Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines. As a result Astute class boats are about 30 per cent larger than previous British attack submarines, which were powered by smaller diameter reactors.
Speed, knots: Officially 29+ knots dived, unofficially probably over 32 knots, possibly faster. Dive Depth: Over 300m.
Missiles: SLCM: GDC/Hughes Tomahawk (TLAM-C Block III) land attack; Tercom aided inertial navigation system (TAINS) with GPS backup; range 1,700 km (918 n miles) at 0.7 Mach; altitude 15-100 m; 318 kg shaped charge warhead.
Torpedoes: 6-21 in (533 mm) tubes. Marconi Spearfish torpedoes armed with directed energy warheads; range up to 45 miles/at65knots/withactive/passivehoming. .
A total of 38 weapons can be carried for tube-launch, for example: 14 Tomahawk missiles, 24 Spearfish torpedoes.
Mines: Can lay mines.
Sonar: Type 2076 integrated suite (with Type 2074 active/passive bow array); Type 2077 HF under-ice navigational active; type probably towed passive array. EW: Racal Outfit UAP(4) intercept suite; launchers for SCAD 101 and SCAD 102 decoys and SCAD 200 sonar jammers. Radar: 1 Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 navigation/search
She is the first Royal Navy submarine class to have a bunk for each member of the ship's company, ending the practice of 'hot bunking', whereby two sailors on opposite watches shared the same bunk. Complement 84 including 12 officers.
As with all submarines built for the Royal Navy the bridge fin of the Astute-class boats is specially reinforced to allow surfacing through ice caps. They can fire Tomahawk cruise missiles from their launch tubes, including the new "tactical Tomahawk" currently under development. More than 39,000 acoustic tiles mask the vessel's sonar signature, giving the Astute class a better stealth quality than any other submarine previously operated by the Royal Navy. The vessel is equipped with the advanced the advanced Sonar 2076 which is an integrated passive/active search and attack sonar suite with bow, intercept, flank and towed arrays.
The Astute Combat Management System is an evolved version of the submarine command system used on other classes of submarine. The system receives data from the boat's sensors and displays real time imagery on all command consoles. The submarines also have DESO 25 high-precision echo sounders, two CM010 non-hull-penetrating optronic masts which carry thermal imaging and low-light TV and colour CCD TV sensors.
The Astute-class submarines can be fitted with a dry deck shelter which allows special forces soldiers to deploy whilst the submarine is submerged.
Why do I say we need many more patrol submarines? Don’t believe me. Just get hold of a copy of The Silent Deep written by Peter Hennessy and James Jinks. Peter Hennessy is one of our finest historians. Read their accounts of the patrols by our submarine service into the Soviet Union now Russian coastal waters from the Arctic to the Black Sea and that continue to this day. This is a job akin to policing Pan Mun Jom between South and North Korea, as close to war as it comes before you start shooting. Royal Navy submariners trail their potential foes, dodge depth charges, slink through minefields and in many different seas. We are preparing our first super carrier for sea trials while still building her sister ship. At least one of them will need submarine escorts most of the time when serving and that could mean anywhere in the world. You can’t do all these jobs – properly – with only a handful of submarines backed up by two handfuls of surface ships.
VOLUNTEER RESERVE FLEET
To do this requires the creation of an active reserve fleet – and finding the manpower. Present government plans allow that some Type 23 destroyers will remain in service until 2036 and as there is still no final decision over the replacement design, this date will slip and slide. In other words, should some Type 23s become replaced earlier, these warships as part of a reserve fleet would contribute to our defence into the middle of this century. An alternative is to build a number of smaller corvettes as a reserve fleet. British designs already exist - for export.
Despite government, schools and media, there is great enthusiasm for all things maritime in these islands. Look at our splendid Olympic Team sailors who regularly win gold. Every summer 22,000 yachts sail through Spithead and the Solent on the Round the Island Race. Finding enough qualified and enthusiastic younger people to join such a reserve fleet would not take very long. Moreover, plenty of excellent younger officers who have left the navy through frustration, I feel confident, would happily volunteer for the reserve fleet, thereby safeguarding the taxpayers' original investment in their very expensive training. Many of these young people, now lost to the navy, went to university at our expense to obtain qualifications in mechanical and nuclear engineering. I know one fully trained and experienced navigation stream officer who nowadays works for a large construction company. He became fed up when their were no commands for most of his entry year at Dartmouth.
HMS Queen Elizabeth meets the USS George Bush en route from Rosyth to Portsmouth
We should start thinking like a super power.
We live on a group of islands.
We live by exporting, mostly sea trade but also trade and travel by air plus huge amounts of trade via electronic means.
Brexit will reopen all the old sea trade routes throughout the Commonwealth and the Americas and return our exclusive economic zone to UK control. Future food imports will come mostly from Ireland and the Commonwealth and developing countries. We will be able to revive our merchant navy and fishing fleets. The government must prepare ways to help shipping, fishing and ship builders to exploit these unique opportunities. The government will also need to take on board that our strategic interests will become global again with – apart from neutering Russia – less involvement with Europe and North Africa and far more concerned with our old allies scattered across the globe.
By terms of geography our nearest potential foe is Putin’s version of Russia. This situation could change but let us assume it drags on until Putin retires, goes gaga or simply moves on to whatever kind of other world KGB veterans allow themselves to go to. Germany will appease Putin to safeguard their gas supplies and considerable investments in Russia. This will cause a crisis for NATO but most of the EC do not live next door to Putin and my hunch is that they will go along with whatever deal the Germans make with Putin. NATO won’t break up but will be weakened. The rump of the EC – because this is the moment when others may follow us to the door – will huddle around Germany. Three strengths of NATO become important in this situation – intelligence gathering; sea power - particularly patrol submarines and aircraft carriers; air power – particularly long range strikes.
We import energy while sitting on huge natural resources. Great Britain has large deposits of oil and gas bearing shale. On the Continent only Poland has more other than Russia. The government should get a move on with licensing, promoting and encouraging this industry. Across the Atlantic they do not waste time and their shale industry is making them independent of the OPEC cartel. This prospect has an influence on our naval plans. Just over a century ago Winston Churchill switched the navy from coal, of which we still have enough for 300 years, to oil which lay under the sands of the deserts thousands of miles away. The decision was about speed of passage and reaction. This time the oil may be hidden under our feet.
Or, will electric motors and batteries advance so fast that warships won't need fuel but plug in when alongside.
The Royal Navy is our senior service and the nation’s fundamental all risk insurance policy. Presently the navy stands at a quarter of the strength required for a reliable margin of safety. We need to restore the numbers of surface ships, submarines and aircraft to Cold War strength. This will become the most important strategic move that follows Brexit and could vastly enhance our country’s influence and wealth.
We need a navy strong enough to deter and if necessary defeat any other navy that is not a close ally.
We must be able to do this on terms of our choosing. That means investing in research, developing cutting edge technology such as drones for air, surface and below, improved sonar and radar, hypersonic missiles and rail guns, new materials and propulsion systems.
Gas turbines made possible instant starts. Nuclear power provides unlimited range. However, naval forces still move at the same speed as the Grand Fleet in 1914. Designs for ships and engines ought to reflect the ambition that naval operations should move into a new zone for cruising and best speeds. That would broaden the options for intervention and give us an advantage over all other navies that are not close allies.
To survive in hostile waters and air space any navy requires a balanced fleet.
Many in politics, the media and I regret the two sister armed services do not understand or do not want to accept this simple truth. Imagine trying to liberate the Falkland Islands without aircraft carriers – which was the fate John Nott intended for the navy. Such a fleet would not survive off Scandinavia for more than a few days. The BBC even produced a drama where HMS Queen Elizabeth is nuked in the Baltic – an inland sea where the only reason for sailing an aircraft carrier is on goodwill port visits. Moreover, BBC logic seemed as though the aircraft and rocket are yet to be invented. This nonsense has to be exposed for what it is and that requires a steady marketing campaign by the navy direct to the general public.
Purchase the full order of 140-150 F 35s and form Royal Navy squadrons with roughly half. The rest – a slightly larger number - go to the RAF but the pilots and ground crews for at least four RAF squadrons of F 35s should be trained to fly and operate from the aircraft carriers. This introduces great flexibility when deploying our combined strike air power and allows us to bring maximum firepower to bear from the sea on a potential target.
Further invest in the F 35 programme by purchasing some ECM and defence suppression versions. These aircraft are intended as force multipliers because will have the capability to lead with stealth attacks though guide non-stealth aircraft such as Typhoon through the layers of hostile defences and mark their targets.
The Royal Marine Commando Brigade is a uniquely skilled and combat seasoned formation. We should enhance its fighting power with more men not less, better firepower, better ships, aircraft and troop lift helicopters.
We should strengthen our friendship with the US Navy through even closer teamwork between the two submarine services and welcoming US Marine Corps F35 and Osprey squadrons on board the new aircraft carriers.
There are similar partnerships with several Commonwealth navies and these links should be strengthened. India may be non-aligned but has no wish to see the Indian Ocean dominated by China. All of us believe in freedom of the seas and that includes the South China Sea. Our trade with this side of the world will increase steadily. Australia and New Zealand rely on the US Navy carrier groups for serious hitting power against major hostile navies in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Apart from two world wars the Australians and New Zealanders fought in Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq and now Syria. They are supremely staunch allies. The RAAF have ordered up to 100 F 35A fighters, the conventional take-off version, so have Japan and South Korea. New Zealand’s politicians stripped their islands of jet combat aircraft. New Zealand is dangerously exposed and totally reliant on Australia and US Navy carrier groups in a dangerous emergency. After Brexit the Pacific and Far East will become much more important trading partners than anywhere in Europe. Malaysia and Singapore are important trading partners and allies in the region. We should involve ourselves in the security of our Commonwealth friends now that we have the means once more.
As part of this diplomacy we should approach Vietnam, South Korea and Japan and seek naval alliances. I have served in the first two countries. Indonesia probably should also be approached but I do not feel qualified to judge.
The same arguments apply to Africa and the Americas.
Recruiting, training, morale and retention are top priority jobs for a modern, highly technical navy. The government can but only improve matters by adopting a far more positive approach to the Armed Forces and could raise extra money for them through lateral thinking. Why not make companies like Amazon, Google, Face Book pay proper taxes instead of the present derisory sums – that would soon pay for restoring the navy to a safe size. France has just fined Google enough money to buy a modified America class small carrier.
Ignore academics calling for disarmament by drone. We’ve heard it before – Duncan Sandys, 1957. It was nonsense then, it’s nonsense now.
Training is crucial, so is counter-propaganda. No young person feels encouraged to sign up when all they hear and read is doom and gloom. Young people need to feel they’re on the winning side and that joining the navy offers a successful future career. The media cover of the HMS Queen Elizabeth leaving Rosyth was typical but that doesn’t mean the government should accept it as par for the course. I have heard no speech or broadcast by the Prime Minister or any other senior minister to thank the army of Scots who mostly supplied the parts and built the ship, many were apprentices, nor a word to the English, Welsh and Northern Irish also on the huge team. Russia has a direct interest in rubbishing HMS Queen Elizabeth – the government should silence this particular denigration by kicking out at least a third of the Russian diplomats in Britain and make them take Russia Today with them.
We’ve all been horrified by the dreadful fire at a tower block in North Kensington. That’s what happens when people who should know better try to do fire safety on the cheap. Defence is just like fire safety. The Royal Navy is the mighty sea fire brigade that prowls the planet’s oceans looking out for our safety and well-being. You don’t skimp on the insurance policy - it’s high time our political class grew up.
Let's have the last word from a man who in 1667 learned the hard way the value of a strong Royal Navy when the Dutch burned his fleet anchored in the River Medway, including the flag ship named after him.
"It is upon the navy under the good Providence of God that the safety, honour, and welfare of this realm do chiefly depend."
Charles the Second
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