Wednesday, 15 May 2013

April - May 2013 Notes: Relocating Britain’s Army from Germany, the impact on Logistics, Infrastructure and Future Deployment Strategy

Reason for writing: Recent article about the problems of relocating UK forces from the Army’s ‘land carrier’ (more commonly known as the bases in Germany), the current on-going Joint Warrior Exercise, some other articles and a consideration of the future of operations with a view to the forthcoming summer defence review. There is also the point that having recently looked at the strategic deterrence and its value, it made sense to now look at the role of conventional forces.


This work started out as shortened notes, as it grew longer it seemed sensible to add in some picture pages to break up the text, and also to provide illustrations of what is being discussed.


With the winding down of our involvement in Afghanistan and bases in Germany, British forces are coming home to Britain, they need to be located not just in a way which will ‘store’ them, but also in a way which allows Britain to deploy them when it needs to – and they have to be long term solutions.

Forces in Scotland might be attractive to Scottish politicians, but with the independence referendum (even though the vote is likely to be ‘No’ from current polling) in 2014, their lack of major military airports and sea ports…forces based there have to move a long way to be deployed… in contrast though the ruggedness of their terrain and the lack of ‘people’ (for want of a better word) make it an excellent area in training.

Forces in the South East of England represent a further burden on the infrastructure in that area, the most densely populated of Britain, but they have access to large military airports and thanks to Portsmouth, Southampton, Marchwood[1] and others, some very large port facilities…It also has Salisbury plain, in many ways the training hub of British mechanised forces.

Forces in Wales face a similar problems & advantages to Scotland – but benefit from not facing an independence referendum, and Forces in Northern Ireland – whilst benefiting from existing basing facilities there…are a political minefield which could well upset the balance that is necessary to allow the consolidation and development of the still to an extent fragile peace.

Forces in the South West benefit from being almost as sparse as Scotland, with excellent training areas on Bodmin & Dartmoor, along with the fact that Plymouth is the home of much of the Royal Navy’s amphibious transport capability.

The trouble for Britain is its global commitments, not only the territories & economic zones highlighted in the strategic deterrent paper[2], but apart from NATO, there is also the 5 Power Defence Arrangements,  the Commonwealth and even EU… all generate missions, interests and necessities for Britain’s defence resources to meet; and have the capacity to generate far more than exercises.

Equipment is becoming heavier, and more necessary as opponents, even those utilising ‘low tech’ techniques, are making use of ever more powerful, practiced and (in their own ways) advanced versions. More equipment, means more logistics, spare parts, fuel and maintenance personnel are needed, all adding to the ‘tail’ of any deployment. Further to all this is the fact that difference between the capabilities of state and non-state actors is becoming less & less defined; thanks in part to the opportunities of globalisation, but also due to fact that states not wishing to get involved openly are more likely to turn to such organisation in order to provide themselves with a bulwark against the possibility of retaliation.

The world is not getting easier, and nor are the possible operations which British forces may be asked to do in future; let alone the present with problems in Mali, Nigeria & Syria… and those are the ones that are making the news. Any of these could affect Britain’s interests, as those interests are not simply limited to the economic, territorial or diplomatic; but also include the cultural, and the ethnic – the latter brought in by fact that Britain is now a very ethnically diverse nation, this all means that any conflict in the world will impact on it as a nation…or at least individuals. This means politicians could well end up being forced to act by public outcry… putting a further burden upon the nation’s armed forces.

It is therefore why these notes start in the complex issue of basing, and move on to the not as straightforward as it would seem issue of deployment; both noted though through a conventional deterrent/strategy perspective.


↑ Britain’s area of Economic Exclusivity
←A  Mk 7 AEW Sea King of the RN
The Great Maritime Choke Points ↑
A British Army Augusta Westland Apache →

Key Words/Phrases:

  • VSTOL: Vertical/Short Take Off and Landing, the cheapest system of carrier flight deck, but requires the most expensive aircraft… the Royal Navy (RN) was the first navy to employ this to provide its fixed wing airpower, but that was out of necessity when the first Queen Elizabeth class was cancelled (CVA-01 was due to have been called after the Queen) and all it managed to get built were the ‘Through-Deck Cruisers’ of the Invincible class.
  • F-35 Lightning II (Joint Strike Fighter): produced in multiple variants, A for normal runways, B for VSTOL and C for CATOBAR, this is the new stealth jet strike/fighter (what used to be called a Fighter Bomber…i.e. could fight its way to the target, drop its bombs and fight its way back) coming into service with the RN for the Fleet Air Arm to fly of the carriers.
  • Eurofighter Typhoon: Principle aircraft belonging to the Royal Air Force at the moment, a Cold War inspired Dog-Fighter that was used in conjunction with Tornadoes over Libya to do some limited bombing… although it was the much more venerable Tornadoes which had to aim the weapons. 
  • NATO: North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – Britain’s principle strategic alliance,
  • 5 Power Defence Arrangement: UK, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.
  • Naval Service: this is used in this work when discussing something which affects, or describing a contribution which is offered by, the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary and Royal Marines together, as part of their simpatico relationship…basically its being used as short hand description…but it’s also a firm truth that they are all part of the same hole and without being linked as they are to each other, then none of them could do their roles that Britain requires them to in quite the same way as they do.
  • Sea Basing: The idea of basing operations from the sea in order to minimise logistical & support footprint in any area; as well as to minimise costs from the perspective that the heavy maintenance/diagnostic equipment need only be procured for the vessels, rather than anew each time a base is established[3].

The MLRS – Multiple Launch Rocket System
25 Tonnes (Standard)
Challenger II Main Battle Tank
62.5 Tonnes (Standard)

AS 90 Self Propelled Artillery
40.8 Tonnes (Standard)
Warrior IFV
24.5 Tonnes (Standard)


Key Points:

1.      Base Precepts…some ideas which underpin the thinking behind many of the propositions put forward…

a.      Sea Power; the Naval Service has to be capable of defending Britain’s Interests, trade and allies… to do this it must be able to implement and utilise control of the sea, or in plain English;

                                                              i.      During war time the fleet needs to be able to provide a strong enough Air Sea Bubble in the face of a power of equivalent strength/technological capability to carry out strikes against land targets, to enable an amphibious assault, and to cover tactical and strategic follow up landings, whilst simultaneously protecting British national integrity and defending any trade as necessary.

                                                            ii.      During peace time the fleet must maintain a high training and readiness states, whilst providing a visible global presence in order to protect interests, serve as a deterrent for conflict and build interoperability with & capability off allies by conducting regular interactions.

b.      Amphibious; the Royal Marines are part of the Naval Service for a reason, their role makes them much more of Sea/Littoral force than a land force, the level of training that is required to maintain the capability of assault from the sea is such, and the fact that they are the general area specialists – the Mountain and Artic Warfare Cadre, the Jungle Training, the Parachuting are all things they do on top of their commando training to make them even more capable…they are so interconnected within the naval service as a whole, something especially reflected in the academic entry requirements for the joining the Royal Marines; all these things together would be extremely hard for the Army to justify on financial and practical levels for one brigade in many, but which in the RMs as the only brigade in the Naval Service are their reason for being.

c.       Land Power; The army has to be capable of maintaining a sustained commitment to peace building operations, as well as retaining the capability to provide expansion forces for any amphibious operation (i.e. the troops for the tactical & strategic landings) or the forces required for major intervention/allied operation.

d.      Air Power; this is an area which seems to produce constant battles, and the lessons of history are that that is not good… now whilst one side might present the idea that all air power should be under one service, in reality it’s like suggesting that everything that floats should belong to the navy, or everything with wheels or tracks should belong to the army – it’s an idea in theory, the reality is problematic[4]. Furthermore Britain has experience of such a method of organisation, during the 1920s & 30s it produced an air force which worries about air force missions as those were what would secure its funding, and thus not what the other services might needed air power to do[5]… however the arguments over control should not be allowed to continue; a possible remedy would be setting down firm guidelines, that an aircraft should be owned/operated by the service who’s area is its primary role to support – i.e. some examples:

                      i.      ASW helicopters, primarily support the RN so should be RN,
                     ii.      Helicopter Gunships primarily support the Army so should be Army; although as demonstrated recently from HMS Ocean in Libya, they can operate independently and are also of critical use to the Royal Marines
                    iii.      Carrier Borne fighter aircraft because their primary roles are air defence of the fleet, support of RMs in amphibious operations and strike from the sea should be RN
                    iv.      Transport Helicopters that exist as primarily battlefield taxis should be Army, except in the case of those that primarily support the RMs in Amphibious Operations they should be Naval Service.

None of this is to say that Naval Service pilots (especially Royal Marines) shouldn’t exchange and fly gunships, or RAF pilots can’t exchange and fly naval fighters…in fact these should be encouraged to allow personnel to build as broader base of understanding as possible, as this will help when services have to combine for operations, for planning and for procurement as it will make them better able to see the possible synergies, as well as understanding their counterparts case better.

2.      Basing

a.      Criterion: Basing of forces needs to take into count the infrastructure of the area and its ability to support the increase people/needs that will come with their presence, that has relatively easy access to training areas in order to keep up force readiness, and has access to military ports & airports so forces can be moved to where the Government needs them to be.

b.      Current Situation: British forces are returning to the UK, the current plans are to make use of existing facilities – especially those left unused by SDSR 2010…

c.       Option 1: Locate all the returning forces in South East which has the most infrastructure and therefore ability to support them… but is already overcrowded, and is limited in flexibility for training.  

d.      Option 2: Locate all the returning forces in the South West which has excellent training facilities, and good access to military ports & air ports…unfortunately the South West does not have that large a density of population therefore not really prepared for the influx of population that would result.

e.      Option 3: Expand the idea behind HS 2, and included an HS 3 running from London to Falmouth, with branches from the spine connecting to major ports and airports; when combined with the existing road network would enable for forces to be based nationwide and still take regular advantage of the training facilities, whilst spreading out the effect on infrastructure and population change. It’s also the most strategically safe due to the dispersed nature of the deployment and it would also be more ecologically sound, and would offer an ease of deployment to European training facilities as a bonus - thanks to the rail integration offered by the channel tunnel.

f.        Summary: the current policy being enacted is not a bad policy, however it could be made to work a lot better by the application of long term joined-up thinking… HS 2 is going to be a big project, but for both defence national economics an HS 3 linking up to the South West, especially the grow harbour facilities at Falmouth and the bases within the region to London would support a growth in the level of operational support those facilities can be used for but also enable those regions which are to a large extent emergent industry & tourist based economies to grow with access to Britain’s principle economic hub.

3.      Training

a.      Criterion: If Britain is going to do more with less, and especially if it is going to start relying more upon reservists then it needs to not only increase the amount of training, but also the quality and realism of it.

b.      Current Situation[6]:

i.      Over two thirds of the 240,000 hectares of land owned by the MOD is held solely for the purpose of training the Armed Forces. This land is known as the Defence Training Estate (DTE). The DTE comprises 16 major Armed Forces training areas, and 104 other minor training areas, ranges and camps.

ii.      There are also training areas of varying size and complexity used by the MOD overseas, including:

·         Belize - 5 training areas

·         Brunei - 2 jungle training areas

·         Kenya - 13 training areas

·         Canada - 1 training area (three times the size of Salisbury Plain Training Area)

iii.      There is an average daily throughput of 9,000 service personnel on the DTE.

iv.      To this has to be added access to NATO training areas in Germany such as the Bergen-Hohne training area which is alone over 28,000 hectares of space

c.       Option 1: Increase the size and scope of training available in the UK by purchasing more land or setting up systems where by certain area’s become exercise grounds even with their civilian population…unfortunately this is not likely to be popular with farmers who’s fields will be run over, wildlife groups who’s preserves would also be run through and councils/local authorities who would have to deal with the disruption it would cause.

d.      Option 2: Is based around the better utilisation of infrastructure (as was Basing Option 3), if the bases are built round  the high speed rail then even with the no longer basing troops in Germany permanently… facilities could still be kept to quarter them and the equipment necessary there when its needed, and with vehicle transporters already going through the channel tunnel, there is no reason the vehicles being transported could not be military vehicles – the bases could be used easily as expansion options to complement training at British facilities…which would negate the need to buy/assume control of more of the British countryside, with all the risks of Nimbyism which that could entail.

e.      Option 3: Making more use of simulation facilities…this might sound strange or even like the Science Fiction of Star Trek and its holodecks; but the reality is the US Army is starting to make great use of virtual training with the aim of adding another level to the preparation received by its forces[7]. The great thing is this can be set up pretty much anywhere, and could conceivably become as standard as firing range practice or obstacle courses in the training of military personnel. Flight simulators are already used extensively by the British forces, the Royal Navy uses simulators extensively to prepare crews and to develop capabilities[8]… it would seem sensible therefore to carry on with this and make the full progression to not only using it for all units possible, but perhaps cross linking the various facilities so crews, troops, aircrews and others can all get experience working together in real-time…it’s not the same as doing the real life training, but it’s a lot cheaper and would allow for the ironing out of kinks which would enable the maximum to be got out of those sessions.

f.        Summary: the reality is a middle path between all three options would probably be best, serious thought should be given to expanding the ranges in the UK or perhaps seeking an agreement with the National Trust and other landowners to make use of their land for some exercises…variety is important when seeking to prepare personnel to serve Britain in the most hostile environment possible – the war zone. However, this then feeds into the needs for strong links to the large European training areas and developing a simulator training system which is fully integrate-able; perhaps one that even allows limited access from home computers so those reservists who are going to be using machinery, or working through consoles can practice their skills at home… none of this is pie in the sky thinking, the computer games industry has made leaps and bounds in this sort of dispersed network interaction, and therefore a system should be able to be readily procured & adapted off the shelf. What’s most important is to emphasise, reservists are just as capable of being as able in their roles as regulars, but that’s only if they receive the proper training and preparation…something which requires not only a commitment from them but also from the government which is going to make use of them.

4.      Deploying

a.      Criterion: With the heavy equipment now coming back to Britain, it’s no longer of a case of deploying to European problems or deploying to world problems; just deploying.

b.      Current Situation: The bases in Germany have at times been described as the British Army’s ‘aircraft carrier in Europe’, it was actually closer to the amphibious task group in reality, but now it’s all being withdrawn and the world is being redrawn as well… more and more Britain is not just thinking of problems in Europe, but problems around the world.

c.       Option 1: do nothing, just stay at home…it’s an option, a bad one, but it is an option…and it would be the cheapest one. Unfortunately as the maps in the first image block show, Britain has a global legacy, global connections and most importantly global interests – the economy is a trading one, finance, services and manufacturing are the principle sources of income; and as the recent recession testifies too, Britain needs a relatively peaceful/stable global situation (in all senses) in order to flourish, and unfortunately a nation cannot always rely upon the interests of others to look after its own…or the others to necessarily have the capabilities required to do so even if their interests do match.

d.      Option 2: Air Transport can be ridiculously expensive (in Kosovo, Air was used to bring 10% of the stuff moved but amounted to about 90% of the cost of the operation), requires over flying agreement from nations its necessary to use the air space of, and are also facing increased risk not only from SAMs but also their lack of heavy equipment means units could be theoretically over run quite quickly if facing sufficiently armed and motivated opposition (Operation Market Garden, or a Bridge too Far would be an example of this)… conversely despite all this, the speed of reaction possible with it, make it for special forces and small operations one of the preferred options for movement of such forces. Currently though Britain has:

                                                              i.      8 Hercules C3 (C-130H),

·         92 passengers or 64 airborne troops or 6 pallets or 74 litter patients with 2 medical personnel,

·         2–3 Humvees, or 1 LAV III (with turret removed) or an M113 armoured personnel carrier

                                                            ii.      10 Hercules C4 (C-130J-30)

·         128 passengers or 92 airborne troops or 8 pallets or 97 litter patients with 2 medical personnel

·         2–3 Humvees, or 1 LAV III (with turret removed) or an M113 armoured personnel carrier

                                                          iii.      14 Hercules C5 (C-130J)

·         92 passengers or 64 airborne troops or 6 pallets or 74 litter patients with 2 medical personnel

·         2–3 Humvees, or 1 LAV III (with turret removed) or an M113 armoured personnel carrier

                                                           iv.      8 C-17A Globemasters

·         102 paratroopers or 158 troops with palletized and sidewall seats or 53 troops with sidewall seats (allows 13 cargo pallets) only or 36 litter and 54 ambulatory patients or Cargo, such as an M1 Abrams tank, three Strykers, or six M1117 Armoured Security Vehicles

This represents therefore a total theoretical capacity to move 512 + 920 + 896 = 2328 troops for a tactical air assault, however in reality some of those 32 Hercules will be carrying pallets of supplies, vehicles and the odds are some will be unavailable due to servicing/maintenance[9]… and of course aircraft numbers are in the process of being reduced in preparation for their replacement. So the reality is a battalion of about 800 soldiers is the likely deployable amount. Now the C-17As have not been included in the numbers of assault for a simple reason, they are too valuable to risk in the first wave, they represent the possibility of getting in armour, further supplies, reinforcement… added to this their sheer size makes them not really suitable for the task when faced with an active opposition.

e.      Option 3: We cannot always presume to have bases or friendly ports therefore our Options for sea transport, which are at the moment limited but expandable; currently the force available is easily built upon with some excellent stock designs that are adaptable to any purpose…

                                                              i.      Assault – currently dependent upon two LPHs Illustrious & Ocean and two LPDs Albion & Bulwark; but under this proposal the new LHDs, LSL(h) and the LHA would take on the role of supporting the RM’s in the assault function; this new force would (if all vessels were present) be able to move up 7200 personnel in standard. This would be unusual though, more often it would be a force of 4800 in standard, as there would be only be two of LHDs/LHA & two of the LSL(h)s available at any one time.  

                                                            ii.      Tactical – the LSLs are currently it, but under the new proposals they would have their role maximised by the additions of Albion and Bulwark, maintained in advanced reserve, the carrying capacity of this force would be just 2800 in standard; not enough really for a brigade, so force would have to be supplemented by two LSPs as are proposed for the strategic force, as these would increase standard to 5200. Again though, this would not be the normal, whilst the two LPDs, Albion & Bulwark, would most likely due to their reserve service be available, however more than likely just two LSLs and one of the LSPs would be available, resulting in a force of around 3600 in reality; there again should the whole force be placed in advanced reserve with crews drawn partially from Regular service, whilst most are drawn from reserves then there is no reason why a ready lift capacity of at least 4800 could not be maintained.

                                                          iii.      Strategic – 4 RO-RO transport vessels are already in service with the RN, and they are excellent, not only as useful transports but also as money earners when not needed; under these proposals, this program would be expanded to 8 RO-ROs, all designed so they can quickly be fitted with CIWS weapons. To support the mexifloats required for unloading, as well as to provide some transport for helicopters and personnel, six LSPs would be needed to provide for the personnel; again best placed in a form of advanced reserve, so that a guarantee of 4800 personnel could be moved, but if all were available could shift up to 7200.   

                                                           iv.      Ships Taken Up From Trade – there is the simple fact that some will probably be needed for larger operations, although their exact contribution is difficult to factor and will not be included in analysis, it is important that their likelihood of use be understood and factored into preparations – some portable chaff & flare systems, along with communications equipment and the naval personnel (most likely reservists would be most suitable & cost effective) to operate/maintain them all should be provisioned.

                                                             v.      This A total force of 27 vessels, capable of carrying up to 19,600 personnel + equipment (if all vessels are available), under normal circumstance it would be closer to 14,400 (a practicable if light divisional strength force).

·         1 LHA (to act as third aphib/carrier, so that Britain can always guarantee to have a carrier and helicopters for support of operations), and 2 LHDs; if these are based upon the America class[10]  they could be able to carry roughly 1800 troops each in standard.

·         2 LPDS; Albion &  Bulwark, able to carry 800 personnel

·         3 LSLs, the Bay class, one has been sold to Australia, but they are still excellent and the design has plenty of scope for adaptation and specialisation for other roles.

·         3 LSL(h)s, built to the same design as the Bay class but slightly expanded and with a hangar for up to 4 medium helicopters; would be able to carry stores/up to 1000 troops/a combination of both.

·         8 LSPs, built along the design of the Bay class, with a hangar able to carry 4 light helicopters, but designed to move people, hence the ability carry 1200 in standard… to do so they would need gym facilities & enhanced galley facilities, but as would only be expected to carry a few light vehicles there is plenty of space within the design to build in the accommodation.

·         8 RO-ROs: built to carry the vehicles needed for the force, with the addition of the ramp being modified so it can go low enough to connect with a mexi-float or the deck of an LPD in order to allow for a swift off-load…it would also require podded propulsion/stabilisers/and a very accurate navigational computer to allow them to stay in exactly the same position without moving – all very doable with commercially available systems.

As has been shown there is room for expansion within the wider amphibious force & auxiliaries, and furthermore this would fit with structure of British forces as laid out by the post SDSR 2010 announcements. This proposal if implemented would probably turn out something like this:

                                                              i.            due to the simpatico relationship of the RMs & RN in the Naval Service, and by necessity of the role, they are best equipped and trained to conduct the initial assault; when its expected they will meet resistance and could have to be quickly recalled if things went wrong the relationship within the naval service is best suited to ensure that things get done rather than misunderstood. Added to this, as had been said before the RMs have many unique capabilities which, a rotational brigade system would not be in position to attain.  

                                                            ii.            After this, then Britain’s other elite infantry brigade, the 16th Air Assault Brigade stiffened with at least another battalion (from 1st Division… the Adaptable Force) would be able to be landed soon after in what would be called tactical circumstances; this can be done without complete air superiority, as they would be ‘light’ so could be moved on many different forms transport and therefore moved ashore as quickly as possible.

                                                          iii.            Finally with the initial landing area secured by the previous two brigades, then the strategic landing of the far heavier brigade from 3rd Division could take place; therefore completing the landing of an expeditionary division… this force would benefit from the RO-ROs and the LSPs.

Ideally such a system if desired would result in the setting up of an ‘Expeditionary Command’, modelled on the Amphibious Task Group, but with a Royal Navy Rear Admiral paired with either an Army or Royal Marine Major General (ideally, the posts of Divisional Commander, Second in Command and Chief of Staff would each be allocated on a one in three basis to the RMs, so that this top echelon of the land forces would always  have both services represented in reflection of their contribution)…this sharing could be replicated in other positions as well to ensure that the contributing services feel a part of the system, but also to help to promote & facilitate the necessary level of joined up thinking to make it a success. 

f.        Summary: staying at home is not really an option for the British economy, nor does it fit with our nature or self-view, air transport whilst it is the fastest it cannot move heavy equipment quickly enough nor is it really safe enough for large operations in the view of the necessity of capturing/securing (possibly building) air fields of the size to bring in equipment…however whilst sea does turn up with all the heavy equipment, all the logistics, and if part of a task force would definitely come under the term ‘self-supporting’ as they would bring their own airfield(s) & artillery with them, amphibious forces are slower to react than airborne and just as with the problems of securing over flight privileges, there is the fact that not every country has a coastline – most do, but some don’t. The most sensible answer for Britain therefore in reality lies within a combination, if it is wished to retain its present status and all the benefits that come with that status, then the ability to deploy a division of troops worldwide cannot be ignored, the fact that it can be done so quickly and cost effectively whilst also providing a stronger & more flexible force overall cannot be ignored, neither can the flexibility of air assault…

5.      Strategy

a.      What does Britain want to do?

This is the question Britain has to ask itself, does it want to become a Switzerland, does it want to the rule the world again or does it want to just be able to protect its interests & stand up for its friends when it has too? If, as most likely, the latter course is the one chosen then it is necessary that thought is given as to how that is going to be done.

b.      How is Britain going to deal with the world?

This sounds like it’s the same question, but it’s not, is Britain going to deal with the world as an independent, as an ally in NATO, as a member of the EU? Is it even going to be whole? These are questions which are not only necessary to consider, but are most likely going to result in at least two referendums… independence is important, a lesson of the Falklands & Sierra Leone (to name two) was that Britain, no matter how integrated, will not always find itself able to fight as an ally…therefore a measure of independence must be maintained, even though the idea of abrogating capabilities to allies in order to relieve costs must be so attractive under the current strictures being imposed by mistakes of the past.  

c.       Do we sit back on the Strategic Deterrent and hope that will act as catch all?

It’s an option, it’s not a good one as it means that British governments would be forced to go around the world waving nuclear weapons like they were showing off a brand new Aston Martin – after a while everyone would get a little annoyed at keep having it rubbed in their face, and the trouble would come when someone called their bluff… because would we really use such weapons if not threatened by them ourselves? Could in the court of international public opinion we do so?

HMS Daring the lead ship of the Type 45 Destroyers, with RFA Wave Knight, one of the Wave class fleet Oilers in the background
HMS Albion one of the RN’s two LPD’s in during an exercise at Portsmouth (Photo taken by Author), note the LCU in the foreground, and the helicopters making use of the flight deck

An 3D projection of the Type 26 Frigate
RFA Mounts Bay, (RFA Lyme Bay is just visible in the background) in Falmouth Harbour (Photo taken by Author). Two of the Very important and exceedingly to Britain’s global presence and amphibious operational capability, Bay Class – notwithstanding the very short term decision which was taken to sell the fourth vessel to the Australian government; for many bringing back memories of the planned selling of the third Invincible class to the same government prior to the Falklands War of 1982.


Points of Interest:

1.      What’s been suggested is nothing really new or revolutionary, it’s in fact almost the traditional British Strategy: it’s what Pitt did, it’s what Churchill did, and it’s practical & cost effect – instead of relying upon foreign bases, in other countries…which can offer benefits but also can have significant financial (they cost hard cash to maintain, and its money which goes automatically goes outside of the British economy), diplomatic (Britain would be tied to that nation and its internal/external politics, whatever our government wanted) and strategic drawbacks (they are fixed bases, there is no guarantee that even after the expense of setting them up they are going to be where they are needed to be, in fact Murphy’s Law & history would tend to suggest they are most likely not going to be).

2.      Options of global reach; the amphibious stuff is especially global, but it’s about having the ability to do a graded response, 

3.      Whilst a lot of things are said on the topic, It’s worthwhile noting that with aircraft carriers and amphibious ships its often truer that what is driving the size of things is what it is wanted to fit in them…not ego or a desire to push up costs for no reason. The f-35 is bigger than the Harrier, it has been decided to go for a slightly bigger (and therefore more flexible & capable) air group, this is why the Queen Elizabeth’s are so much bigger than the Invincibles, and also why for the replacement of that the Ocean & Illustrious and to provide the future core of Britain’s amphibious assault capability the America class is the better option to base from – especially when because of its size, and without a well deck, such a ship would be a capable emergency stand in for a Queen Elizabeth class, should circumstance render both unavailable.

America Class LHD/LHA

FS Mistral, the lead ship of its class, with HMS Argyll a RN Type 23 Frigate, and FS Henaff, exercising together of the West Coast of Africa.
F-35 Lightning II in all its variants

Mars Class as envisioned by artists re-provisioning a Daring class destroyer at sea.



One of the articles that started this writing talks about the future of sea power, and actually has in its title ‘Land Based Sea Power’, now having read them the works of those theorists as the author suggests; it’s my opinion that whilst the jeune ecole came up with some attractive ideas, every time they were implemented they either lost or were never tested... the fact is though raiding is not a strategy of a nation which depended upon moving stuff on the sea for its survival - it’s a land power strategy, a nation which doesn't depend upon sea communications. For Britain to protect trade routes, to protect interests globally which are far away from even the longest range aircraft in practical sense, requires presence as has been proved every time those methods have been applied; Napoleonic Wars, the First and Second World Wars… the enemy scored victories yes, but not the decisive ones needed. Further to this, whilst yes in theory it may be possible to launch fighters from the UK, tanker them down the 8000miles down the Atlantic and have them fly a CAP over the Falkland Islands then come home...the reality is nothing but questions. How long would those aircraft be able to stay there? To cover it for 24 hours a day, how many aircraft would have to be in the air at any one time? To keep this up for 365 days a year how many aircraft would be needed overall? How many tankers? How many fighters? The article is worth a read and so are the works of the Jeune Ecole because their ideas are interesting, thought provoking and at the least will push the reader to think long and hard about what they think... but the readers should always remember all theory has to stand up in the face of logic, common sense and reality, if it does not it should be followed, still studied because times could change radically… but history has taught that often things just get bigger.

The trouble for Britain will be that whilst many might wish to retreat from the world, to go back to be a little Island which just does it’s own thing… the reality it has never been that way, British tribes are reported to have set aid to tribes in Gaul fighting the Romans, under the Plantagenet’s England took control of much of France, from the reign of Elizabeth 1st England, later Britiain, built up not just a global empire upon which the sun was said to never set, but a trading empire which spanned an even greater sphere of the world. The trade remains a cornerstone of Britain’s economy (forgotten perhaps for a while in the face of Europe, but steadily returning to the for as the government seeks to rebuild, retool and rebalance the economy), as does the empire in legacy, whether it’s the visible commonwealth or the less visible cultural, emotional and historical ties which bind the peoples it spanned together in ways not always welcomed but still there.

Britain has three paths open to it; it could be riskily radical, it could do the almost traditional muddle & pray or it could seek to strike viable compromise… it is because of this fact that throughout much of the analysis three options were offered, they are not an exhaustive list of these – but the ones chosen are a good framework for debate & further analysis. In the end what is done, will most like boil down to what the Treasury & Cabinet declare to be affordable…no matter whether its good strategy or bad strategy; whether it fits with the requirements of Britain’s interests or not. However, there is a chance, a hope that perhaps this time will be different, that strategy, interest and necessity will be the guiding lights of the review…

The purpose of this work was aimed at providing a start for a discussion, a more in-depth discussion – no option has been left of the table, although many of the more obvious options have been investigated. This work is a rather extended form of notes, aimed at setting out framework, as well as explaining some ideas that underpin its proposals; although it is by no means complete and certainly not an end of, although it may be a while before the time necessary to commence the future notes on this topic present itself. 

As proponent of sea basing, who’s master’s thesis was on its application for the operations of medium powers, I will admit a level of bias… to a topic that’s arguments I know so well, and which has also seemed to me to offer a level of simplicity, security and most of all flexibility which medium powers with global interests seem to be in greatest requirement of. The Amphibious force suggested in this work, is mostly put forward in the cost effective platform of ‘advanced reserve’, but those Ro-Ro’s in peace time would move equipment for exercises or be put to commercial use, the LSLs and the subsidiary designs could be used on a more continual basis to provide at sea logistical, maintenance and manoeuvre hubs (as well as a secure communication station/meeting area) which could really enable the maximum to be eeked out of the smaller forces Britain will most likely be deploying upon such long term operations in future.  

Landing Craft Utility

Merlin Helicopter

Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel (LCVPs

Chinooks, Sea King’s and Apache helicopters on the deck of HMS Ocean


For those who wish to read further into the field of Naval Theory…some suggested reading

Cable, James. Britain's Naval Future. London: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Clapp, Michael, and Ewen Southby-Tailyour. Amphibious Assault Falklands, The Battle of San Carlos Water. London: Orion Books, 1997.
Corbett, Julian S. Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. Uckfield: The Naval & Military Press Ltd, 1911.
Corbett, Julian S. England in the Seven Years War. Vol. II. II vols. London: Elibron CLassics, 2005.b.
—. England in the Seven Years War. Vol. I. II vols. London: Elibron Classics, 2005.a.
Corbett, Julian S., and H. J. Edwards, . The Cambridge Naval and Military Series. London: Cambridge University Press, 1914.
Hill, J. R. Air Defence at Sea. Shepperton: Ian Allan Ltd, 1988.
Lambert, Andrew. Admirals. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.
Mahan, A.T. The Influence of Sea Power Upon History 1660-1783. 5th Edition. New York: Dover Publications Inc, 1987.
Richmond, Herbert W. “Naval Officers Point of View.” In The Cambridge; Naval and Military Series, edited by Julian S. Corbette and H. S. Edwards, 39-54. London: Cambridge University Press, 1914.
Southby-Tailyour, Ewen. HMS FEARLESS; The Mighty Lion. Barnesly: Pen & Sword Maritime, 2006.
Thompson, Julian. 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands. London: Pen & Sword Military, 2007.
—. Dunkirk; Retreat to Victory. London: Macmillan, 2009.
—. War Behind Enemy Lines. London: Pan Books, 1999, Hedgewick & Jackston 1998.

The future of the Naval Services ability to project itself in the face of an enemy

The future of Australia’s power projection, the Canberra class LHD

The current level of completion attained by Queen Elizabeth


[1] Which is currently a military port, but is in the process of being privatised – although the military will still use it.
[4] Not because of nastiness or evil itnentions, or anything conspiracy theory but if a service has a fixed budget, and it has some missions/systems which are orientated on things which give it a reason for being (for an Air Force that would be Air Defence of the Homeland & Deep Strike) then if it has to make a choice where to spend that fixed pot of money, it’s not going to pick the things which support other services but don’t fit with its aims (for an Air Force Anti-Submarine Warfare and carrier aviation)…why else did the Army want to take the ‘landships’ of the Admiralty as soon as it could in WW1, for the RN they were almost a novelty sponsored by Churchill to support the RNAS’s armoured car units, for the Army they were a necessity to try and break the stalemate on the western front.
[5] It was because of this that the Royal Navy ended up with an Open Cockpited Biplane as its primary strike aircraft in the age of the Spitfire, and the Army had to be supported by Hart Light bombers at Dunkirk which were taken out of museums as there were no dive-bombers available (Thompson, Dunkirk; Retreat to Victory 2009).

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