Mark Collins – UK Strategic Defence and Security Review: Trying to Stop the Incredible Shrinking

The Economist’s headline may be rather optimistic as much may be fiscal pie in the sky–and as the army and navy “have lost out” (note especially the RN’s Type 26 frigate cost problems, with the RCN in mind):

The Strategic Defence and Security Review
Britain reasserts itself as a serious military power
Spies, special forces and the Royal Air Force are the main winners

The latest review [text here] sets out to repair some of the damage caused by the previous, hastily cobbled-together effort [in 2010, text here]. It confirms the government’s recent commitment to meeting the NATO target of spending at least 2% of GDP on defence, for at least the five years of this Parliament. The government may have got there by employing a few accounting wheezes, such as chucking military pensions into the pot. But the promise, made under considerable American pressure, still came as a pleasant surprise to generals who feared another round of cuts from a chancellor who has promised to balance the books over the next four years.

The main winners appear to be the intelligence services, special forces and the Royal Air Force. The number of staff at GCHQ (the signal-intelligence agency), MI5 and MI6 (the domestic and foreign intelligence services) is to increase by 1,900. The SAS and other special forces will receive an extra £2 billion ($3 billion) for fancy new kit.

The air force is to be the main beneficiary of a £12-billion increase in the ten-year equipment budget, to £178 billion. Most of that will go on accelerating the acquisition of 24 stealthy F-35B fighter jets [total by 2023 apparently actually this: “…there will be about 42 of the new planes delivered by 2023…”], to ensure that each of two new aircraft carriers will have at least a squadron of F-35s by the time both are fully deployed in 2023 (the first will be ready in 2020). It will be two decades before the full fleet of 138 F-35s has landed [emphasis added], but the gap will be covered by extending the life of older Typhoons and thus adding two more frontline squadrons to relieve pressure on the air force, which is already under strain [at Flightglobal: ‘…the addition of an active electronically-scanned array radar is expected to take the operation of the type out to “at least 2040”.’]…

Another change for the better is the announcement of a £2-billion programme to buy nine Boeing P8 maritime-patrol aircraft [there goes any chance for a Bombardier airframe being used]. The previous defence review left Britain without an aerial anti-submarine capability. With Russian subs once again probing NATO’s defences in the North Atlantic, Britain has had to rely on French help to patrol its own territorial waters from the air [note too: “RCAF patrol aircraft [an Aurora] brought in to help Britain look for Russian submarine….again”]. The lack of maritime-patrol aircraft also put at risk the credibility of Britain’s submarine-borne Trident nuclear deterrent, which the SDSR confirmed the government intends to renew, at a cost of around £31 billion. In the cold war, Soviet submarines would attempt to track Britain’s missile-carrying subs as they left port for their Atlantic hiding places. That threat appears to be re-emerging thanks to Russian military modernisation and Vladimir Putin’s apparent desire to confront NATO where and when he can.

Both the navy and the army have lost out. The former will have to operate with all hands on deck, particularly when the new carriers are factored in. Admirals hoped to recruit around another 4,000 sailors; they will get only one-tenth of that number. Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, is confident that “efficiency savings” will save the day. Nor is the navy likely to be able to buy all 13 of the new Type 26 frigates it wants. Five of its new ships are likely to be a smaller, cheaper model [does anyone really think Canada will be able to afford even eleven, supposed to have been fifteen, Canadian Surface Combatants for the RCN? see “The Incredible Shrinking RCN Canadian Surface Combatant Fleet, or…“]. That is sensible. The “Type 26-lite”, as it has been dubbed, will be fine for most things, though it may not have the same edge against a sophisticated opponent such as China or Russia…[The Type 26 is one design to be considered as the basis for the RCN’s CSCs; and perhaps a mixed fleet for this ploject should be considered for our Navy too: “Royal Canadian Navy: 15 Canadian Surface Combatants? Maybe Some Offshore Patrol Vessels Instead“].

The army is to be reorganised to create two 5,000-strong “strike brigades” that can be sent to fight anywhere in the world at short notice [but they “…will be created by 2025.”!?!]. Mr Fallon insists that the new brigades will not come at the expense of Britain’s ability to deploy for a limited period a heavily-armed force of 40,000 or so, such as was sent to Iraq, or to keep 10,000 troops in the field indefinitely, as in Afghanistan. But the message is clear: rapid-reaction forces are in; substantial numbers of boots on the ground and long-term counter-insurgency operations are out, at least for now [so not a true combat capability against a major foe]…

The Financial Times‘ story by contrast has this headline: “Defence review: No bonanza for stretched armed forces after years of cuts”.  Plus lots of detail here on the UK’s current defence forces. 

Note how this cost allowance for the RN’s Type 26s did not work out:

Canada Plans $26B for 15 Major Warships; UK $7B for 13–Go Figure

This is also relevant to the RCN–the shipbuilder is being considered for the CSC design:

Italian Navy’s Offshore Patrol Vessel Plans (RCN?), Part 2

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


4 thoughts on “Mark Collins – UK Strategic Defence and Security Review: Trying to Stop the Incredible Shrinking”

  1. More on RN frigates:

    ‘Royal Navy To Reduce Frigate Buy, Design Lighter Warship [i.e. in effect large OPVs? note Canada as possible Type 26 candidate]

    The Royal Navy has cut plans to build 13 Type 26 frigates to eight and will launch a concept phase to design a new class of lighter warships to fill the gap, the government announced in the strategic defense and security review (SDSR) unveiled Monday [Nov. 23].

    The review also said the government wouldn’t order any Type 26 frigates from BAE Systems until it had “further matured the design.”..

    The Ministry of Defence awarded BAE an £859 million demonstration phase contract earlier this year, and the company had been expecting a contract to cut metal on the first of a three-ship Type 26 order penciled in for next year.

    MoD sources, who asked not to be named, said the change from 13 to eight Type 26s may be better news than it first appears.
    “It’s a commitment for eight warships whereas recently there had been speculation the number could be lower. From an industry perspective the new light frigate will enable BAE and others to keep design and engineering teams busy beyond the scaling down of the Type 26 effort, which would probably have started late next year,” he said…

    The Type 26 is a 7,000-ton anti-submarine warfare vessel set to replace the first of 13 Type 23s starting around 2022. The cost of the Type 26 program has never been officially released, but a senior naval officer at the DSEI show in London in September gave a ballpark figure of £12 billion in outturn price for 13 warships during a speech.

    MoD sources later said he had rounded up the figure to £12 billion and the real cost was below £11.5 billion.

    The government intends to launch a concept study and then design and build a new class of lighter, flexible, general purpose frigates to complement the Type 26, according to the SDSR.

    Details are thin and it’s unclear whether the new frigate will be based on the same hull as the Type 26 or something completely different.

    Originally, the Type 26 was to have operated in a general purpose role as well as its primary ASW mission.

    The review said the lighter, more flexible warship would have a better chance of securing export orders for Britain’s naval industry.

    The government and BAE had pinned great hopes on the Type 26, also known as the Global Combat Ship, becoming an export success but its complexity, size and cost have shrunk the pool of potential buyers to just a handful of countries like Australia, Canada and Germany [Germany?].

    The current plan remains for the Royal Navy to field a 19 strong fleet consisting of six Type 45 air defense destroyers, eight Type 26 anti-submarine frigates and now five general purpose frigates…’

    Mark Collins

  2. And more on RAF fast jets (note possible F-35A buy sometime in future, 42 F-35Bs total as initial operational force:
    The U.K.’s Eurofighter Typhoon force will be expanded with an additional two front-line squadrons to be formed using the Tranche 1 aircraft that had been due to exit service in 2017. The exact mix of Tranche 1, 2 and 3 aircraft is yet to be confirmed. Some reports say 24 aircraft, others say 36 of the 50 or so Tranche 1 jets delivered will be retained.

    The Typhoon’s out-of-service date will also be extended from 2030 to 2040. The U.K. also plans to fit the Tranche 3 Typhoons with the active electronically scanned array radar currently in development.

    The Typhoon, along with enhancements to carry air-to-ground weapons, will still replace the Panavia Tornado GR4 in 2019, although the Tornado fleet will not begin to shrink until 2018.

    “It is anticipated that the [Tornado] force will start to draw down from 2018, allowing us to make a smooth transition of personnel to support the introduction of our Lightning II Force into service in 2019,” a defense ministry spokesman said.

    The report says the U.K. will maintain its plan to purchase 138 F-35s aircraft over the life of the program. But it does not detail whether the U.K. will look at variants beyond the F-35B model planned for use on the U.K.’s two new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. This will be decided in the next SDSR planned for 2020.

    In the meantime, orders for the F-35B will be accelerated in order to put up to 24 of the aircraft onto the new Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. A further 18 aircraft will support training, test and evaluation, and periodic servicing and upgrade activity, defense officials have told Aviation Week.

    The U.K. has already signed up to purchase 14 F-35s over the next five years, on top of the three already in service and the fourth due to be delivered late this year. Six more F-35Bs were ordered by the U.K. in early November.

    Until now, U.K. ministers had only confirmed plans to purchase 48 F-35s…’

    Mark Collins

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