Saturday, 29 September 2012

Upgrade, Rebuild or New Build? For furture of Britain's escort force that really is the question...

The more that comes about the Type 26 Global Combat Ship program, the more I worry whether all the options have been considered. So that’s where this post comes from, a simple enquiry is the government making the right decision? Is the Type 26 in its current form, in any form, going to provide what Britain needs? Or is perhaps it better to follow the American example of building an improved existing design?

What Britain needs…

To start with there is the obvious, whatever vessels are built, they will be called upon to participate in a wide variety of war fighting missions – primarily as Type 23 replacements Anti-Submarine warfare is going to be a prominent function, considering the reduction in Type 45 numbers  Air Defence is also going to be a key capability, further to these support of Amphibious warfare and long range strike capability would of course provide for them to function as force multipliers in key RN missions.  But ships don’t pay for themselves in war; it’s in ‘peace time’ patrolling, policing and presence missions which justify them.
Britain maintains due to its global interests, mainly trade and legacy alliances, many patrols worldwide. Ranging from counter piracy of the coast of East Africa to South Atlantic Guard Ship, from Counter Drugs Operations in the Caribbean to NATO standing patrols… and none of this takes into account the various exercises and port visits which the fleets escorts take part in/carry out as part of Britain’s extensive diplomatic actions.
Figure 1. The original pre SDSR future fleet...
To do all these things Britain needs numbers, not World War II number but more than are currently in service. A like for like replacement on the Duke class would provide 13 vessels, and after the 2010 SDSR there is not even the prospect of the Type 27 to make up the numbers. Yet all political parties and defence experts are in pretty much agreement that there are not enough vessels to carry out all the missions that are required… so the obvious question is, are 13 enough? Would even 16, the number of Duke class originally built for RN be enough? It’s a no, there was a reason that originally the Type 45 was going to be a class of 12, the C1 was going to be a class of 10, and the C2 a class of 8; 30 escorts was the accepted minimum. Now talk is of the 2,500ton vessels of the Mine Countermeasures, Hydrography and Patrol Capability program making up the difference – and they will be able to do so in constabulary duties…the drugs patrols, but they won’t be able to South Atlantic Guardship, they won’t be able to do NATO patrols and they will not be able take a lead in more weapons intensive war fighting roles as they are simply not big enough to carry all the equipment. Therefore a criterion has to be to build as many as possible, the Type 26 is to have a unit price of around £350million pounds; but the costs don’t stop there, development, logistics, training and infrastructure are all things which have to be paid for. So out of a £10billion program, only £4.55 billon is going to go on buying the units – even when leveraging from 80% known technologies, it still costs money in development to make sure those technologies work together in the way they are planned to...after all nasty surprises are not welcomed in battle, especially when it’s something which works in theory but in practice lets the crew down. It’s the numbers which produce the question as to whether the Type 26 is the way to go for Britain and its strategic needs. 
However this is not the final requirement; whatever option is chosen it must be capable of generating export orders – i.e. it must bring in work and money for the UK. This is a bigger ask than at first glance it may look; successive governments whilst achieving sales of ‘used’ equipment, regularly ‘barely used’ equipment, sometimes to the detriment of Britain’s capabilities, have proved themselves unable to sell new equipment… or rather new pieces of large equipment. The Type 26 is also proving pretty difficult to sell, no matter how much hawking on international street corners our ministers seem to try. Which is a problem, because the reason its marketed as the ‘global combat ship’ rather than the Type 26, the reason its versatility and adaptability are being stressed, the reason the vessel being proposed is in many ways closer to being a small destroyer rather than a large frigate is to make it sell; to make it attractive to nations seeking either the modern equivalent of the American 18 pounder frigates that fought in the 1812 War, small fleet flagships, or those nations looking for an escort that can punch above its weight and give them maximum capability for minimum numbers.
Figure 2. The Type 26 as currently presented

What are the options?

So what are the options available to decision makers – the first is of course carry on build the new design, the Type 26 Global Ships. Even in this there are options, they could be built as currently planned, or they could be adapted…here are some possible mods:
·         Type 26 Mod 1 – 3 Phalanx (replacing 30mms aft), 32 cell MK41 VLS, 2x 8 cell Sylver A30 VLS forward (flanking ‘B’ position), 4x Stan Flex modules (2 amidships, and 2 aft atop hangar), 4.5in DG
·         Type 26 Mod 2 – 4 Oerlikon Millennium 35mm (replacing 30mm & Phalanx – forward flanking the ‘B’ position, replacing the 30mm), 4 StanFlex modules (2 amidships flanking Sylver A30, and 2 aft atop hangar), 32 cell Mk 41 VLS, 2x 8 cell Sylver A30 VLS forward (in ‘B’ position and amidships), 4.5in DG
·         Type 26 Mod 3 – 2 Phalanx (replacing 30mms aft), BAE MK110 57mm (‘B’ position), 32 cell MK41 VLS, 2x 8 cell Sylver A30 VLS forward (flanking ‘B’ position),  4.5in DG
The stanflex system could be a good idea, as instead of being fitted for not with, British ships could be ‘moded for not with’ – it would actually mean building a vessel closer in spirit to the C2, but with it having the ability to be rapidly turned into something more.  Plus it’s a proven, off the shelf system, which is buying in, like the MK 41 VLS to a wide range of development partnerships reducing long term costs on the British Taxpayer. Everything is still to play for with this design, because no one as yet has made any decisions about the engines baring that there will be a range of options available and they will generate enough power to get the ship to 28+ knots. However, an educated guess would assume that the British ones are most likely to be powered by the fruits of Rolls Royce… at least in part. Until the engines are selected everything else which will be put in round them (even in the days of fully electric systems, the sheer weight of the power plants still has a massive impact on how equipment is distributed around the ship) is not certain.  The Type 26 can be whatever its wanted to be; but that will cost and this will be a new system.
The other options are taking a leaf out of the USN’s book, and like they did with the Arleigh Burke / Zumwalt decision, build a modified/improved version existing, already supported and costed design. So the options are Type 23 or Type 45?
Figure 3. HMS Marlborough in Portsmouth dockyard.
The Type 23s already do the role, their design is functional and proven, the final units built cost under £100million per unit, a new upgraded version would probably be able to be brought in at £175million unit, allowing for the purchase of 26 for the same £4.55billion Unit purchase outlay as the Type 26. It won’t be as good as the Type 26 is proposed to be; but at 2 units for the price of 1 it would allow for a lot more operational flexibility. It could still carrying the new CAMM missile, a large amount of equipment is going to be transition from the Type 23s anyway – this would make the transition easier. A modified Type 23 could have CIWS fitted, all the problems/weakness in capabilities which the RN knows as fully as it can after operating the class for over 20 years; with a better power plant/drive train and improved sensors.
Figure 4. HMS Daring from every cubic angle but underneath
A more logical option perhaps, because they have finished being built would be to continue the Type 45s, and just expand there already developed/in place support systems – as well as capitalise on the logistics and training savings by using more of the money to purchase units. After all at £500million a unit (based on the AAD version), the £4.55billion could only buy 9 units, but the savings and synergies brought about by having a fleet of ‘one type’ would probably allow for an £3billion to be freed to purchasing units, allowing for a total purchase of 15 vessels and fleet which would have 21 vessels using the same engines, the same spare parts, the same systems… allowing for a far more operational productive structure than two classes of 13 and 6 vessels would. An example of this would be, an Auxiliary only has to carry one set of spare parts, so it can carry more of them, as well as components which go wrong less often, allowing for a higher level of frontline support to be achieved – maximising the force on station.
There is also the fact that the version produced to fulfil the ‘brief’ would have to be general purpose, i.e. it could have a cheaper less AAD focused radar such as the Artisan 3D radar already proposed for the Type 26, it already has space in its design for drones but if necessary an adaption to the superstructure or even a lengthening/broadening of the design could be included as the RN has done with previous designs. It’s understood from the most recent design that two types of VLS are desired, and the Type 45 does have the space for 2 8 cell A30 Sylver systems for the Sea Ceptors be put in… they could be inserted either side of the stack between the 30mm and phalanx mounts, whilst instead of just a 24 cell ‘attack’ VLS, a 48 cell system could be fitted.
Another option would be for the RN to keep to the existing radar set up, or possibly just the Sampson and use some of the ‘attack’ VLS cells to carry extra Area Air Defence weapon or even Anti-Ballistic Missile systems such as the SM-3; an option made more possible by the larger ‘attack’ VLS able to be carried by the destroyer. Its more money per unit but the program overall would not be more expensive; or it could mix and match, build some with the Sampson as ABM vessels that can also reinforce the existing AAD vessels, and build the rest with the Artisan radar… the fact is that with the same engines, layout and broadly speaking design, the changes would be relatively cosmetic in equivalence to the complexity of a modern warship.

What is the Best fit?

Well the sheer numbers offered by the Type 23 is attractive; but in reality it’s almost a 40 year old design, and its not big enough to do the mission profiles which will be expected of the future escorts. There is also the manning issue; manning 26 rather than 13 ships would be a big strain on the RN under its current size. Also whilst 3 ‘used’ units were sold to Chile, that’s not the sort of orders that would suggest more orders will be forthcoming should a new variant of the class be the decision of the British Government. This means that only two of these options are viable. A general purpose Type 45 or the Type 26?
The Type 26 represents possibility; could the RN really finally crack the formula of the perfect combination of capability and cost that will satisfy the needs of Britain’s security? It has promise; the separate/focused VLS is certainly a step in the right direction, and whilst interest has not been more than just that – it’s as yet an unknown quantity and those deciding might be waiting to see the final product before making a decision.
The Type 45, well represents a successful design, it works, it’s a known quantity, the problems and kinks have either been well documented or solved. Further to all this a general purpose version of the Type 45 would represent something that is known would attract interest+ from foreign buyers. For example the Saudis when considering the Type 45 for their navy were put off by what they felt was over specialisation for the size of the vessel; so a general purpose version especially if the mix and match approach was taken with vessels of differing levels would offer buyers the options it its believed will attract their money. Other considerations would be the fact that it be larger resulting force; which thanks to its shared logistics footprint would be far more deployable.

Conclusion: in reality…

History can only provide an idea of the future, not a definite path, and in reality it’s the type 26s which is the most likely option to be built, the general purpose Type 45s would be of great note and even greater use. An especial truth in the far reduced circumstance the RN has found itself in post successive cuts. However, a new ship, a new design is the apparent desire… so the challenge is to make that ship fit the role it’s needed to fill, and that means that real thought has to go into it. It has to be decided now, what it is wanted to do, what it is needed to do, and what it has to do… these are not the same things, what it is  wanted to do – is something that is rather liked for the sake of providing options, what its needed do – well that is the constraints of Britain’s strategic situation, what it has to do – that’s simple, it has to be able to has to be worth the cost, or else a lot of brave lives will be lost needlessly. Those decisions have to be made now, and they have to be stuck to – or all that will happen are delays and a ship that becomes a Christmas tree… with everyone hanging their pet project on it, and therefore causing the cost to keep escalating and unit numbers to be forced down by a penny conscious Treasury.
Figure  5. The Type 26 as revealed in an earlier graphic... arguably a junior Type 45 in much of its profile

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