Thursday, 1 August 2013

July 2013 Notes: Could the RNR provide a solution to the Naval Services lack of force depth?

Reason for writing: the Royal Navy is shrinking, it’s personnel numbers are being cut regularly and unlike other services it’s reserves whilst loyal, well trained and very committed are often seemingly an afternoon in defence considerations. These notes consider the idea that perhaps the Royal Navy Reserve should be re-established, re-energised and most importantly re-equipped so it’s once more on a more equal footing with its other service counterparts and can play as full a role as Britain in reality needs it to in the defence of the realm.

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, 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,
·         SSK: Diesel Attack Submarine
·         SSN: Nuclear Attack Submarine
·         LSL: Landing Ship logistics
·         Corvette: less than 3000tons warship.
·         STUFT: Ships Taken Up From Trade
·         LRMP: Long Range Maritime Patrol
·         ACA: Auxiliary Combat Aircraft[1]



In the 1800s the Royal Navy could draw upon a massive merchant fleet to provide both manpower and ships in times of war to make up for the peacetime procurement shortfall; in 1850s this was formalised into the Royal Naval Reserves. In the 1900s a proper fleet was stood up and until 1960 the Royal Naval reserve would retain their own vessels for activation in times of war. It was done in part because it was presumed that any future conflict would quickly go nuclear so a naval reserve would not be of use. However, since 1960 through a combination of luck, diplomacy and strategic deterrence there hasn’t been a nuclear war, there has been though been piracy, drug trafficking, a huge naval task force was despatched to the Falklands, constant patrols have been kept up worldwide at points of critical interest and countless other mobilisations. For all these things a reserve force would have been more than useful, they would have been lifesaving and more importantly far more cost effective than having to implement commercial solutions within a limited time frame.

For the modern Naval Service the lack of a proper reserve[2] is a problem which can only grow, fewer and fewer merchant ships are now British flagged, and those that are growing bigger – now whilst this might seem a benefit as fewer ships can carry more stuff, which in terms of commercial carriage is great as it cuts costs, in terms of naval operations it’s a real problem. The case study is the Atlantic Conveyor in the Falklands war, the loss of the helicopters and the supplies it was carrying really hampered the land war effort and forced the amphibious task group to have to take far bigger risks with its ships… now imagine if that ship had 50% bigger, even more loaded with equipment, even more important therefore not to place all the eggs in single basket. 

Finally with a shrinking land forces then it’s becoming more and more obvious that the Army will be relying upon Territorial Units to provide whole formations in some war scenarios; it seems strange that the RMs are not also similarly equipped with a  reserve formation to provide that extra strength – more importantly extra amphibious strength when necessary. This could be important because with the overall force size shrinking and the number of/distance to possible flash points increasing there is more likelihood of forces being overextended; and having amphibious thinking[3], amphibious orientated[4], amphibious trained[5], but most importantly amphibious forces[6] available to the missions that will be required of them is essential to the success of those missions.

Missions though are not only about what takes place on the front line, there are other posts of a more sedentary nature which also would benefit from being able to draw reservists. For example having reservists in the operational, logistics and planning staffs would mean should a scenario arise where the regulars need go forward to help form a task force staff or something similar, then the posts would not be left suddenly empty or time taken whilst new officers come up to speed as the reservists could just be activated and take post providing the extra person(s) who would already be familiar not only with the role, but with personnel and their style of work. Furthermore the reservists doing their weekends training would enable more regular personnel to have weekends off therefore improving their family lives immeasurably; something which would benefit retention of regular personnel.

A specific area which could really benefit from reservist personnel is naval intelligence[7], which is a position which would not only benefit from having a large pool of experience/knowledge to draw but more importantly is often under staffed; especially when a crisis hits. Another area needing more personnel is Ships Take up from Trade – STUFT; this has always traditionally been an RNR role, and it still very much is, but the personnel for it need to be expanded both to cope with an increased capability and with the real possibility that they might have to man more ships or those ships might have to travel greater distances, most importantly though they must be able to provide those ships that are manned with better defences, such circumstance will again require more personnel…the moral of the story with STUFT is that while the personnel are great, to make proper used of it then the ships will need to be able to be armed better than they have traditionally been.
Maritime Security will always be an issue; the sea is not like land a wall cannot just be stuck up when you want to keep people out – this means many more personnel that can be provided under current circumstances with just the regular forces to rely upon; having reserves that could be called up in emergencies would be a very effective method of maximising security without having to pull regular forces or interrupt maintenance of vessels in order to be able to respond to the situation. 

Key Points:

·         Based on the ‘nucleus’ reserve structure used by the RN traditionally, i.e. all ships would have small detachment of regulars to oversee maintenance, the RM reserve commando(s) would have a core of regular NCOs & Officers to build themselves round. Although, most importantly the Unit commanders must be themselves reservists, this would be helped in the ship circumstance by having more crews than ships, so the temptation could be easily resisted… but it is important when especially considering  aircraft squadrons or commandos that the reservist personnel feel their commander understands their situation  (or at least has a similarity). This will be important for retention which will be a key requirement to keep these forces capable and relevant.
·         Regular training – whilst retention will be a key plank of effectiveness, it will be retention combined with training that will provide the successes: 26 weekends a year plus two fortnight exercises will be a good start, but online courses/simulations, seminars/lectures by veterans & other knowledgeable people, a good technical & strategic service magazine and finally the chance to sign up for a 6 month deployment on a regular ship would all serve to create a far stronger, far more capable and integrated reserve organisation.
·         Career structure – the reservists can’t feel that every time a regular retires they have first dibs on any post, it must be felt that the reservists through commitment and hard work can conceivably become unit commander… if it is felt that all that matters is rank in regulars then a lot of great people will be put off, as there are many who would love to serve in the navy but would not want to go regular and would grow frustrated if there was any ‘glass’ ceiling. For example the army maintains a Major General Reserves, who is a reservist officer; in comparison the RN hasn’t had a reserve Rear Admiral since John Grant retired with the RNRs ships in 1960.
·         Units must be collocated with regulars units so as to enable them to train together, support each other; however reservists must have their own properly supplied and organised units. Just putting them ad-hoc-ly within units and having them fill in as and when required damages the regular unit as it prevents it from making the case to needing to be properly supplied with regular personnel, and also whilst building closer integration it can also lead to a feeling of insecurities and also can make them feel that they have limited chance of a long term career[8].

Roles proposed
·         Crisis response/disaster relief – they would provide a pool of manpower for when things happen, because naval service personnel all have to be trained in fire fighting and damage control because of the nature of ships…those same personnel are very useful when things go wrong ashore as they have lots of good quality useful core skills. 
·         War fighting  - it’s obvious be must never be forgotten the primary role of these personnel is to provide the naval service with the depth of personnel it needs to fight modern wars whilst not pushing numbers of regulars above levels which the government is unwilling to pay for.
·         Manning STUFT – including having stand-alone self defence systems they can install quickly. The last is important even if it’s only chaff, flares and jamming gear it would still be useful and instil greater confidence within the merchant crews whilst also serving to free up the escorts to be a little looser as they would be less important to point protection.  
·         Providing support and fill – as they already do but on a more well supplied basis, with more depth and more training then the RNRs could not just provide personnel fill but also Unit Fill when that is required.

They would need equipment:
·         Ships – Corvettes[9], MCMVs, Patrol ships, LSLs & Auxiliaries[10] and SSKs[11]
·         Aircraft – Helicopters, LRMP and ACA
·         Vehicles – Viking APC, 105mm field guns[12]
·         Plug ins – Chaff, Flares, Jamming equipment, Communication stations, and CIWS systems[13]

This is all about generating the sort of force which will provide the naval service the reserves it needs for future conflicts, being able to outfit merchant vessels so that they can fire back if under attack will allow escorts to turn from guarding sheep dogs into protective wolves – prowling for the enemy rather than having to hold a line at all costs. Reserve ships will not only come with reserve crews, but provide slack so that when regular vessels go into long term maintenance their duties can be covered…a situation which would also benefit reserve personnel as it would allow them to volunteer for an extended deployment to upgrade their skills.

Points of Interest:
·         RM’s could have a 4th (or even a 5th) Commando so no matter what deployments were on it the world the Government would always be able to deploy an amphibious brigade to trouble spots – that is important because a brigade sized force is large enough to establish and defend a bridgehead whilst further forces are off loader, or deal with many scenarios without further support. 
·         RN would have a surge number of escorts – the force level required for war fighting, and that required for global presence are different, this is where the reserves come in
·         Reserve equipment is a force multiplier as instead of losing a ship or something when it has to go into long term refit, a ship can be pulled out of the reserves and put into action – it could even be beneficial with a special crew put together for its tour of volunteer reservists and regulars so as to increase the proficiency of the reservists.
·         Reconnecting with wider society; Sea Blindness is a phrase which comes up all too often, and in many ways is a double edged blade on its user, because it puts the failure to communicate the case not the people who could make it, but those who would listen to it. The first lesson of democracy has always been that whilst everyone may have a voice, everyone doesn’t have to listen.  A larger reserve would combat this, would help the naval service to connect with the wider nation in a more understanding and communicative way. This would be accomplished simply by the mixing process, by the chucking together of regulars who spend most of their careers away from home (some underwater with virtually no communication to the outside world for months at a time) with people who speak their language, share their values, but spend most of their lives at home reading papers every day, watching the evening news – better preparing those regulars for when they have to explain the case for the continued existence of the navy.
·         Benefits to personnel, if they become a single parent or a parent get ill, then instead of losing them, their experience and the investment made in their training they could transfer to reserve


Short answer is yes, the long answer is different. For Reserves to work they would have to be supported, not just lip served, they would need their own ships; imagine for a moment if the 4 Type 22s instead being scrapped had been placed in reserve, or the 3 Type 23’s sold Chile had been? The RN might have 7 frigates in reserve, not costing anything apart from basic maintenance but available for if a conflict should arise where escorts are needed quickly – then the RN would of at a stroke had 20 frigates in service rather than 13 (which in reality due to maintenance requirements is more like 11, in training, returning from patrol, going on patrol or on patrol). What would the navy have been able to do if the Upholder class had been put in reserve rather than sold to Canada? Would it have ever had to go without the chance to train it’s ASW ships against real submarines rather than just simulations? Would not have been better for Largs Bay the LSL(A), a vital component of UK amphibious forces which was sold to Australia, to have been put in reserve for when it is needed? Or HMS Illustrious¸ the vital second ‘LPH’, with no Ocean replacement yet being mooted due to the focus on the Queen Elizabeth’s and the Type 26s would it not be better for her to have gone into reserve status? However, it’s not just ships – whilst cutting the harriers as a ground attack aircraft instead of the Tornado is a decision to be debated elsewhere, why could a reserve squadron have been raised; with far less flying hours per year and reserve personnel it would have still save money and the fleet would have still had some air defence aircraft until the F-35Bs entered service? There also minesweepers, auxiliaries, all sorts of aircraft and vessels which still had service left in them, and could have provided a more than adequate reserve strength to support operations.

The problem with making cuts to save money is too often the emphasis is on the cutting, because that is what is at the front of the mind; and the need to save money in the recent financial crisis is more than understandable. However, now the Army is being cut post Afghanistan, and is promised an increased Territorial Army to support it – yet successive governments have been cutting the Royal Navy and never have they offered option,  and therefore presumably never even thought about ‘should we instead put that into reserve?’. This is the question though which now should be asked, because coming up with whatever escorts replace them in service the Type 23s will still be fairly good ships – suitable for a reserve? More than likely… Alternatively, should the low cost, adaptable and numbers orientated options of the Corvette or ACA be taken up then they would make perfect systems for reservists, simple easy to master systems that would allow the RN a solid base for future operations.


Further Reading:

[2] Now that’s not to say they are not there, and do not do a great job -, but read the descriptions, they are back fill, their
[3] i.e. it’s what they signed up for and don’t mind having to spend possibly long periods on a ship in the ocean waiting for orders to attack.
[4] i.e. in terms of equipment, it’s not just ships which have to be salt water proof, it’s aircraft, guns, any electronic device – the stuff is corrosive on electronics as anything.
[5] i.e. if they are going to take part in amphibious assault, the more times they have seen and LCU, LCVP or helicopter before the more likely it is to go well.
[6] i.e. they have to be expeditionary, they have to able to think an act as much as part of a naval task group as a part of a RM Brigade or it just won’t work.
[7] They already exists,, but there is no direct entry, and they are in reality (but not quite in theory) limited to operational intelligence roles
[8] Yes several do, but usually it peaks at commanding an RNR area units, not FAA squadrons or corvette squadrons.
[10] The Strategic and the Tactical forces proposed here ( are ideal candidates for being reserve lead organisations, and in fact would benefit enormously from being so.
[11] Probably requiring more than the 10 suggested here ( to work properly, a force totalling 14 would probably be adequate to provide for regulars, reserves and maintenance – representing an increase from £3.5billion over 8 years to £4.9billion over 12 years – doable and very attractive from the perspective of providing a secure SSK force to free up the SSNs to do the jobs they are needed to do, rather than trying to be used for everything.
[12] The current reserve unit that supports the 29th Commando Regiment Royal Artillery (, is to be re-rolled by the Army under its Army 2020 program to mini-uavs and subsumed into another unit that will no longer be a commando orientated force; however, the RN has a number of gunnery personel, it would not seem strange should some spare L118 guns be found for them to be used to form a reserve battery – nor would be without president for naval personel to man land guns in support of RM & British army units.
[13] It could be adapted stuff, i.e. for example the Starstreek man portable triple launcher could be adapted to ship use; alternatively a self-contained container system could be used.

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