A good place to start I suppose is what are the Royal Navy's requirements/missions;
- Maintaining the diplomatic position/status quo through providing physical presence and capability of moderate intervention in support of diplomatic action
- Supporting a worldwide commitment to the support and protection of British interests
- re-iterating the point above due to its importance; Providing the capability – without creating a casus beli – like the deployment of troops or aircraft to a neighbour would, of intervention within nation states, in the context of Genocide/Ethnic Cleansing
- Providing succour, multiplication and the vital artery and arms of any expeditionary force.
Broadly speaking the Royal Navies requriments/missions are not that different from any others; what is different is perhaps no other navy is expected to do so much on so little money and especially with so little men and material. Britian is a...Medium Power, its not that big, but its friends are and we like to keep up with the club; but unfortunately our governments often take on more commitments than the forces are actually designed for; as in a similar situation to australia we have a 'balanced force' which has a little of everything and enough of nothing. The Royal Navy is the worst example of this in a very bad set, currently we have no guardship in the Falklands, because the Foreign Minister committed us to the EU anti-piracy taskforce of Somalia, before bothering too ask the Defence Minister let alone any naval officers if they had the ships to spare. This event I feel serves to highlight my point - overstretch has not just been reached, but the band has broken.
So, now I have made my case, here is what (according to some basic maths, logic, and sound strategic/military convention based in years of blood and sacrifice) the Royal Navy requires;
A third carrier of some description is a necessity for maintaining a permanent two carrier capability or most importantly a permanent carrier on station; after all it is the only way of guaranteeing organic air defence of a fleet as well as mobile/cost effective deep strike/strategic influence capability – this could be done by building a third Queen Elizabeth, or perhaps the purchase of an older American CVN...
- the carrier groups could be significantly enhanced by the addition of LHD/LPH + 2 ALSLs to each group, this would provide each carrier group with its own (small) Independent Land Action Force, as well as a force which could be mated onto the amphibious group to provide increased strength for thats operations - most importantly if deployed with 2* commander it will have a real capability on the international stage and within peacekeeping/peace enforcement operations
- The LHD option would have the added advantage of extra strike aircraft as part of the battle group, something which no naval officer would ever turn down, and which no government should ever brush aside with out at least considering how this would impact on not only power of operations but the possible battle evolutions which such extra capacity can provide; e.g. should the extreme happen and the carrier be deck be damaged beyond repair you still have limited organic air cover, or more appropriately some escorts and the LHD could seperate from the group to provide the basis of an at sea pincer movement, finnally why not the carrier carrying out support air strikes whilst the LHD gets in close to take off some civilians from a contested shore or in a different form using its own air detachment for all operational support leaving the carrier air component a free hand to strike at will.
An amphibious task group based around 3 LHD/LPH + 3LPDs + 9 ALSLs, would provide for a permanent lift capability of 5600+ Marines, a significant and desirable intervention force consider the requirements of British foreign policy, something which again would require the construction of a 3rd Bulwark class vessel, and 2 either LHDs or 2 enlarged Ocean class vessels
- if the LHDs are attached to carrier groups, then a larger amphibious group of 6 LHD/LPH + 9 LPD + 15 ALSLs = providing a capability of 12000+ Marines or light division (two enhanced brigades/three short brigades) strength force, such a balanced intervention force would be of great advantage to British policy, and the independent capability of a power of Britain’s size/strength
- examples of where this would come in would be if we needed to support a commonwealth member, retake the falklands for a second time, or more likely need to provide a force capable of implementing regime change...something which western governments are getting more and more keen on
To maintain a guaranteed strength of 3 required escort groups – each made of 3 destroyers, 4 frigates, and 1 SSN – requires a strength of 4.5 groups at the minimum – 6 would be of preference for operational flexibility to be fully developed, i.e. a fleet of at least 15 (18) destroyers, 18 (24) frigates, and 5(6) SSNs (surplus to those required for other duties, and estimate of total SSN fleet strength would come in at about 12-16, the latter being desirable especially if more extended deployments are foreseen) total difference in vessel strength is 15D+18F+12S = 45 vessels, 18D+24F+16S = 58 vessels, difference is 13 vessels, but in operational effectiveness this roughly equates to an increase capability of 50% based in standard power projection terminology/capacity (capacity could be increased by purchase of 18 corvettes, instead of aforementioned vessels, however these whilst providing the hulls, and certain level of capability would not be realist substitutes, especially in the case of destroyers and submarines, the most affected categories); any combination in between would be a considerable improvement on the current system, with a force of 18D+24F+12S = 54 vessels being perhaps the more opportune option for political agreement/support.
- To maintain this level it might be a viable option to purchase some (6) Flight IIa Arleigh Burke class destroyers from America, to compliment a group of 6 type 45's, and perhaps 3-6 larger destroyers optimised for surface group command.
- 13 Type 23's and 4 Type 22's in service would not require that much more building, in fact it would only require a small building program, accomplishable by bringing forward the construction of the type 22's replacements and providing an extended program (+1-7 on the 4 replacements required).
- The submarines are possibly the easiest as the 6 Trafalgar class boats could be joined by 6 Astute's to provide the necessary 12 boats, an extra 4 would be nice but again, if it was desired purchasing American boats or building SSKs would be perfectly reasonable suggestion for a power of the British position.
- The 18 corvettes could be based on enlarged versions of those being built in Britain for Oman, ships which in actual fact are being heavily based on a design of the Future Surface Combatent. These ships might want to be bought anyway with the requirment for amphibious/littoral warfare, especially if the enlarged amphibious group is sought as they would provide a key pool of extra escorts to supliment its escort group.
To support all this would require the maintenance of a 6 support groups, based around 1 oiler + 3 one-stop replenishment ships, a total force of 24 auxiliaries.
- this could be supplemented by the increasing of each group to 6 ships, with the addition of a 4th one-stop replenishment ship(1SRS), and 1 medical ship, this would certainly be something which, with the modern dislike of casualties, should be considered seriously, especially if the larger carrier group/amphibious group is adopted
Therefore computing a total fleet strength in vessels (excluding patrol boats and minesweepers) would be around 96 vessels of blue water status (warships + Auxiliaries).
Total fleet strength with enlarged carrier group/amphibious group/support group+Corvettes; 153 vessels;
- each carrier group would in this case contain; 18 vessels - Carrier, LHD/LPH, 2*ALSL, 4*1SRS, 1 Medical Ship, 1 Oiler, 3 Destroyers, 4 Frigates, 1 SSN
- the amphibious task group would contain (in constant); 42 vessels - 4*LHD/LPHs, 6*LPDs, 10*ALSLs, 4*1SRS, 1 Medical Ship, 1 Oiler, 3 Destroyers, 4 Frigates, 1 SSN, 8 Corvettes
- addition of second support group might be of use to this force, raising it to 48 Vessels - 4*LHD/LPHs, 6*LPDs, 10*ALSLs, 8*1SRS, 2 Medical Ship, 2 Oiler, 3 Destroyers, 4 Frigates, 1 SSN, 8 Corvettes - Ratio of 2 Auxilary/Transport vessels to 1 escort
- free surface escorts (in constant); 11 vessels - 3 destroyers, 4 Frigates, 4 Corvettes
free subs (in constant); 5 vessels - 5 SSNs
Okey, so this is a Long list, and its a large number of ships but it is worth it. I know people are going to take the numbers to pieces, and I will thank them before they do so, as that will help me improve it; but, the escort groups are based in what worked for the Americans, French and Royal Navy - during Cold War, Falklands War and other conflicts. This itself is built upon something which a good friend recently said to me 'Even though the equipment is better now, the sea is still a very big space, and you cannot coverit without a certain quantity of hulls'.
looking forward to the feedback!
Added: 5th January 2009
The difference between the fleet strengths is 57 ships, but this relates to a constant operating strength of about 100 vessels, as opposed to 60 vessels in the first. However it is more than just numbers, the larger fleet allows for extra escorts of the amphibious task group - thus allowing the carrier battle groups to operate more freely - with their movements less constrained by providing defence for that amphibious group.
This is important because it will allow a far more flexible fleet to implemented - the difference between the two fleet strengths is that whilst the smaller will do almost everything that the Royal Navy is or could be required to do; on its own or part of an alliance. The larger will do everything and would enable the Royal Navy, and therefore the British Government to take the lead on humanitarian and peacekeeping operations around the world; something which in the modern world are of increasing importance and provide opportunities for prestige as well as the exercising of their role as a UN security council member.
hope this answers the question!