Saturday, August 13, 2016

British Heavy Armour for the future: Combined Arms Regiment

In detail: the Combined Arms Regiment

In this post I provide a graphic which helps in visualizing the Combined Arms Regiment I’ve been proposing as a solution to the British Army’s current heavy brigade headache. How do you square three brigades into two, and how do you deal with the insufficient number of Warrior vehicles to be upgraded under the Capability Sustainment Programme, while also delivering a workable, credible force structure?

My reply is: with the Combined Arms Regiment. This mirrors, in some ways, what the US Army has been doing for years in its Heavy Brigade Combat Teams, which were composed of two such regiments (then grown to three in exchange for a reduction in the number of brigades).
Israel also combines infantry and tanks within the same armoured regiments, albeit in a different way. Italy used to, in better days for its army.
The British Army does it regularly… but only on deployment and during training. The Combined Arms Regiment is, in the end, a formalization of the “2+2” square battlegroup that the British Army knows all too well. 2 tank squadrons supporting 2 armoured infantry companies.

The graphic uses vehicle profile drawings from Credits for their realization to users Darth Panda, Glorfindel and Sgtsammac. Click on the link to see in full size at

I feel confident in saying that it is time to make this structure permanent. The one good thing of Army 2020 is that armoured infantry and tank units are now all based in the same place, on Salisbury Plain, which virtually removes any remaining logistic / infrastructure reason against such an approach.
The two Heavy Brigades in Army 2025 would restructure each on 3 such permanent battlegroups, and rotate them into readiness, one by one, making the force generation cycle quite straightforward and greatly reducing the need to pull pieces from this regiment, that battalion and that other company over there, which is the current norm.

With the CAR, the British Army:

-          Maintains the same number of MBTs it had in Army 2020, replacing 3 “Type 56” regiments with 6 binary “battalions” (a handy trick to avoid capbadge issues!) of 28 tanks each. The number of frontline tanks is unchanged, at 168.
-          Has more tanks per brigade, 84 versus 56.
-          Has an even balance of tank squadrons and armoured infantry companies. One problem of the Army 2020 armoured brigade is lack of tanks: only 3 squadrons to support as many as 9 companies of infantry (6 armoured, 3 mechanized).

The CAR also “avoids” an otherwise unavoidable cut from 6 armoured infantry battalions to 4: with 245 “turreted” Warriors expected to be upgraded, there simply isn’t enough of them for six battalions. Make the count by yourself: 6x3 companies, and 14 Warrior per company, would require 252 vehicles. And that’s without counting any in the Fire Support Companies, and without any in reserve and in the training fleet. Simply unworkable.
The CARs reduce the number of infantry companies on Warrior to 12, for a total of 168 vehicles. More are used within the six Fire Support Infantry companies, leaving an uncomfortably small margin for the training fleet and for attrition, but at least fitting within the 245 figure. A much needed injection of realism.

The CARs also require 135 men less than the Army 2020 structure (6 infantry battalions of 729 and 3 tank regiments of 587 versus 6 battlegroups of 1000 each).

The graphic shows the distribution of manpower and vehicles. One important piece of the puzzle is the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle, the replacement for the ancient FV432 family of vehicles. The ABSV programme hasn’t been launched yet, but remains on the army list for the next future.
In my CAR assumptions, I’ve inserted the hope for a firepower boost in the form of 120mm mortars and, finally, a vehicle-mounted anti-tank missile capability (complementing, not replacing, the dismounted Javelin teams carried in the back).

ABSV, also known as "turretless Warrior", is a programme that is attempting to take off from well over 10 years. It is fundamental to get it on the move, because FV432s aren't getting any younger. 
ABSV: it was around when Alvis was still kicking... 

The CAR makes up for the relative weakness in infantry numbers by fielding an exceptionally large and capable Fire Support Company, shaped to attach mortar and ATGW sections not only to the infantry companies, but also to the tank squadrons. Mortars, after all, can be extremely useful in setting up smoke curtains and suppressing enemy ATGW firing positions, thus helping and protecting the tank’s ability to manoeuvre.

One relatively unique feature of the proposal is the reconnaissance element. Armoured Infantry and tank formations have so far enjoyed the support of recce troops equipped with 8 Scimitar vehicles, and it was assumed that these would be replaced with an equal number of Ajax. However, the British Army is now looking at forming 4 regiments on Ajax, but all destined to the two Strike Brigades (an approach I do not personally support, but so it is).
Even a more reasonable scenario based on an Ajax regiment in each Heavy and each Strike brigade would still require forming a fourth regiment, out of the same number of vehicles to be purchased. So, the vehicles have to come from somewhere.
My CAR proposal thus does recce with Warriors carrying dismounts, and with the support of the sniper pairs. This collaboration is, again, nothing really new. The sniper pair’s use of quad bikes for independent battlefield mobility is also something that already happens.
The Assault Pioneers, 4 sections mounted each in a Warrior (3 crew + 6 dismounts following the upgrade), stand ready to offer their support.

The REME Light Aid Detachment is expanded to account for the big fleet of vehicles, including tanks. Its structure is a hybrid formation built from the REME elements found in the current armoured infantry battalions and tank regiments.

The HQ Coy is also considerably larger, to account for a bigger echelon with the greater number of trucks needed to support the battlegroup. The HQ Coy is composed of HQ element, Signal Platoon, Quartermaster platoon, Motor Transport platoon, catering and other supporting elements.  

Supported by a capable artillery battery from the brigade’s Fires regiment; a logistic group and an armoured engineer squadron, a CAR is a ready-made battlegroup.
In a future post I will explore the difficult topic represented by the fourth battlegroup, the cavalry one, tasked with reconnaissance and screening. The Army’s need to put some flesh on the bones of the mythological “strike brigades” has given birth to the questionable idea of moving Ajax into those, leaving a big question mark floating on the future scouting element within the armoured brigades.

What the Strike Brigade really needs, but isn’t getting, is the cancelled FRES SV Direct Fire variant, also known as “Medium Armour”. The army had plans for procuring this medium tank variant, armed probably with a 120mm smoothbore gun, but the plan was cancelled years ago as part of the infinite wave of cuts.
Now, Ajax is being asked to play the part of “medium armour” within the Strike Brigades, but armed only with a 40mm gun, and at the cost of leaving the armoured brigades short of recce support. A failure from one end to the other. 
This also signals a further move towards recce by force rather than by stealth, and it would as a consequence require additional firepower to enable the cavalry to manoeuvre, scout ahead and act as an effective screen even in presence of enemy armour. 
The US Army cavalry squadron within armoured brigade combat teams is swapping out all 4x4 in favor of more Bradleys and is also being given a tank company (although, for now at least, this is robbed from one of the combined arms regiments rather than being additional). 
The italian reconnaissance cavalry is also an interesting example. It is wheeled, not tracked, but nonetheless includes a tank-destroyer squadron to be equipped with 8x8 Centauro 2 vehicles armed with a 120mm smoothbore. 
If the British Army wants to be able to manoeuvre against a capable enemy, a regiment of sole Ajax with 40mm will not do: the heavy brigade reconnaissance regiments should have a Challenger 2 presence; while the Strike Brigades should include the Medium Armour variant of Ajax. (or, better still, use a wheeled tank destroyer and recce vehicles, to better match the rest of the brigade that is to be mounted on 8x8). 

Meanwhile, the bids are in for the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme, an enterprise which now faces a couple of years of Assessment Phase, hopefully with two rival industry teams selected for the demonstration programme as “soon” as this October.
The widest possible range of budget figures have been quoted for this programme, going anywhere from 250 to 1200 million pounds. Hard to say what kind of room for manoeuvre Army HQ might have in funding the obsolescence removal from Challenger 2. After years of false starts, the consensus is (or maybe was…?) that the gun and powerpack would not be replaced, despite being the two biggest weaknesses of the tank. But there was a most impressive and interesting development when Rheinmetall filed its bid and boldly promised that their “innovative solution” will enable the switch from the rifled L30 to the smoothbore L55.

A new turret bustle? The image from Rheinmetall does not provide a definitive answer, but suggests so. 

To understand the Challenger 2’s gun problem it is important to underline that the heart of the matter is not so much the fact that it has a rifled barrel, but the fact that it uses two-piece ammunition. This unique feature means that the current ammunition storage spaces are far too short to take the long one-piece shells used by everyone else in NATO; and it also means that the Challenger 2 crews can store the explosive rounds and the launch charges beneath the turret ring, where they are generally safer. In exchange for this, the Challenger 2 does not have the extensively protected and blast-venting ammunition storage compartments found, for example, on the M1 Abrams.
Switching the gun is very easy, and has been trialed and validated already years ago: the problem is that the ammunition storage needs to be completely re-thought, and vast internal modifications become necessary.
Rheinmetall does not elaborate, for now, on how their proposal work. Extensive rebuilding of the turret seems inevitable, and the one CGI image they have published might provide clues to it: the Challenger 2 in the picture seems to have a new turret bustle, which also houses a new independent thermal sensor for the commander (compare the position in the picture with that of the current system to see the difference). Rheinmetall might be suggesting, effectively, a complete reconstruction of the rear of the turret.
There is no telling how much it could cost, and whether the army could face that cost, but I think the Army will be very interested in hearing what Rheinmetall has to say on the matter.

The Challenger 2’s gun is fundamentally handicapped by its use of two-piece ammunition, which makes it pretty much impossible to adopt new, longer armor-piercing darts, putting a hard roof to lethality that is already assessed as problematic and will only get worse over time. In addition, while in the past the HESH round for the L30 added a flexibility that smoothbore tanks did not match, now the situation is fundamentally reversed. There is now a whole variety of ammunition available for smoothbore guns, including novel tri-mode HE shells with airburst and anti-structure capability, and the Challenger 2 is locked out, lost in its own little sea of aging shells with their own exquisitely unique logistic tail. An oddity in NATO, with all what descends from it.

On the engine front, the current powerpack is not powerful enough, especially with how much heavier the Challenger 2 add-on armour kit have become, pushing combat weight as far upwards as to 75 tons. It is also not commendable in terms of reliability.

An army slide about CR2 LEP from last year. The Army has wanted to replace the gun for many years now, but eventually lost hope in front of the ammunition storage problem. Can Rheinmetall's proposal change this, and can the MOD buy?

It is my opinion that if these critical weaknesses can’t be solved, the whole LEP expenditure might become questionable at best. Alternative approaches would have to be considered, with the LEP cancelled and all the money moved across towards the Ajax family, to restore the Medium Armour variant.

FRES SV variants that will never (?) be: ambulance, medium bridgelayer, and Medium Armour / Direct Fire

Being lighter, the new tank would never be able to match the formidable survivability of the Challenger 2 and would inexorably have less passive protection, but it could at least be rolled into service with a smoothbore gun, up-to-date electronics and a powerful powerpack. And if a suitable number of them was procured over time, both Heavy and Strike brigades could have their hitting power secured.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The ministry of stealth budgeting and stealthier cuts

Thanks to the MOD’s sales service, we have just discovered that the Royal Navy has been robbed of yet another precious capability, with the untimely demise of RFA Diligence, the Forward Repair Ship. She is now on sale, ready for further use in the hands of a new owner.

She is in good conditions despite the many years of age, having received constant updates and adjustments over the years, which have included an improved ballast water treatment plant purchased in 2014. She completed her last refit in March 2015… and left service, according to the sales brochure, in May 2015.
Congratulations, MOD! It is not the first time that money is wasted to refit a ship which is then immediately after removed from service. In recent times, it has been the fate of RFA Orangeleaf as well. But this does not mean that the practice is any less demented and offensive.

The cut of RFA Diligence is probably the stealthiest in many years. Sthealtier still than the cut of 2 of the Point class RoRo transports, which took place merely months after the SDSR 2010 had specifically said that all 6 would stay in service. There have been no messages, no ceremonies, no news, no explanations. Only silence.
Nobody knew that RFA Diligence had gone out of service. It was known that she was in port since may 2015, but the assumption was that the RFA had put her “in pause” due to the well known shortage of manpower.
Even the MOD itself seems to have missed the cutting of RFA Diligence, since they replied to a FOI in December 2015 saying that her Out of Service Date was 2020.

The following is a very interesting article about RFA Diligence, her capabilities and her role, from Marine Maintenance Technology International, September 2015 issue.

Yet, she is gone. And a replacement is nowhere to be seen. Considering the capability she offered, it is a big loss.

In the meanwhile, another interesting FOI offers actual numbers to back up the coloured but un-detailed graphics of the 10 year Equipment Programme. This, together with the annual publication on the MOD Major Projects status, makes it possible to play a little bit of math. Open all three documents, and follow me in this puzzle-solving game. 

The FOI’s table offers a more readable breakdown of the Equipment Budget, showing:

-          Money reserved for the launch of new procurement (it does not break down the share destined to support of said new equipment); separating between committed and uncommitted funds. Uncommitted funds are not yet tied down by a contract.
-          Money for In Service Equipment (so, basically, the cost of supporting what is already in service), again in Committed and Uncommitted form.
-          Money for procurement, which is the expenditure on ongoing programmes

Taken alone, these numbers are interesting and impressive, but do not tell the story. What is this money paying for? What margin exists for procuring new kit? Is the situation so desperate that it requires losing a ship as cost-effective and capable as Diligence?
The MOD does not provide the information required. Compare the “10 Year Programme” and all other sparse documents published by the MOD or about the MOD (NAO reports, namely) to the defence budget documentation produced by France, USA and even Italy, and you’ll see that the MOD is as transparent as a thick plate of steel painted solid black.

We only have indications about costs and performance of a handful of selected programmes, and always one year after the budget is determined. The MOD publishes an Excel spreadsheet, annually, detailing the status of the major programmes in the previous Annual Budget Cycle.
The document published this July, in fact, is composed of data from September 2015.
The NAO report works in similar fashion.
Other programmes never get detailed: we are not told what is their in-year cost, nor we are told how much kit is ordered in a set year, and how much kit is taken in charge in the year.
France and US are particularly good at reporting these information. Italy is a bit less detailed, but each year it is possible to read a good document saying how much money is going to go on programme X during the year. The MOD gives no comparable information.

Joining the FOI data with the Excel spreadsheet, though, it is possible to compose a decent picture of the Royal Navy’s equipment budget situation for the year 2015 / 16.
In 2015/16, the Royal Navy has been given, for Surface Ships:

54 million for (eventually) starting new procurement processes for new kit (money uncommitted)

529 million, committed, for supporting equipment in service
302 million, uncommitted, for support to equipment in service

1009 million, committed, for ongoing procurement
310 million, uncommitted, for ongoing procurement

The Excel spreadsheet offers information on in-year expenditure for several programmes. Specifically:

Queen Elizabeth class procurement, 712,93 million
Carrier Enabled Power Projection studies, 1,44 million
Tide class tankers, 194,98 million
Type 26, 222,3 million

The budget allocated in year can be underspent or overspent, depending on how things go. The Excel document contains also the forecasted actual expenditure, most of the time slightly smaller than the allocation.

Adding up the budgets above, however, the total goes well above the Committed 1009 million. The Uncommitted money is not money available for procuring additional kit, but merely money that isn’t yet tied to a specific contract.
If we consider Committed and Uncommitted money together, we reach a 1319 million total. There is in theory a 187,35 million margin, but of course there are programmes we aren’t given details about. For example, the procurement of the River Batch 2. Its cost is 348 million spread over N years, where N is pretty certainly not less than 4. However, the spread of expenditure is not equal, so 348/4 is only a wild estimate.
Again, the Royal Navy also committed 12,6 million (over how many years?) to the ATLAS combined sweep demonstration programme; and a further 17 million (over how many years, again?) for the MMCM system being developed jointly with France.

All things considered, the margin, at the end of the day, is nonexistent. It would be very interesting, instead, to learn what happened to the 54 million for wholly new procurement. It is a small sum, but a non insignificant one. And this year the amount is 80 million, yet, the Royal Navy is reportedly going to lose Scan Eagle, because there is no money to buy the currently contractor-operated systems; nor to renew the current deal; nor to launch the new Flexible Deployable UAS the Royal Navy had hoped to start. This is puzzling, but we simply do not have the information needed to paint a better picture.

The Submarines budget is another interesting area. The FOI gives:

77 uncommitted millions for new procurement, and 15 committed

194 uncommitted and 1663 committed for support to existing equipment

684 uncommitted and 1628 committed for ongoing procurement.

Detectable expenditure in-year in the Submarines budget is given as:

638,65 million for Astute

170,5 for the Nuclear Core Production Capability

770,41 for Successor SSBN

37 million for the Spearfish torpedo upgrade (might actually fall in the Complex Weapons budget line, though)

1085,43 million in costs for AWE Aldermaston, its new infrastructure developments and the Nuclear Warhead Capability Sustainment Programme which is replacing the non-nuclear components of the MK4 warheads to turn them into MK4A.

Again, the total go well above the committed procurement funding, and above the total obtained adding the uncommitted money, too. The most likely explanation is that a big share of the AWE costs actually fall into the Support to in service equipment voice, considering that it is expenditure connected to kit and infrastructure already in use.

It gets more complex with the other services, as the data is even more fragmented and incomplete. The Excel sheet does not provide info on in-year Typhoon expenditure, so Combat Air calculations could only be incomplete.
The simple fact that it takes this kind of research, guessing, reasoning and puzzle-solving to compose a picture of the situation is a sign of just how badly the MOD works, and how much is done to make cuts such as RFA Diligence’s unfortunate departure invisible, or almost so.
The detail about requirements and future purchases is inexistent, and even when the SDSR documents say something, you can expect something else entirely to happen (see the Point class event, or the fact that the “up to six OPVs” in the SDSR 2015 is already turning into “5”, with only of the River Batch 2s replacing HMS Clyde even though the ship is still very much young).

My first plea to the new government is to clear up this mess, and make MOD plans less stealthy. This constant scamming and book-cooking is unhelpful when it is not offensive. This absolute lack of transparency is a shame that needs to be ended. 

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Good news and a confirmation of a bad habit

"Cut in haste, U-turn at leisure" is a synthetic, perfect definition of modern British defence policy. After the obscene blunder of the SDSR 2010, that is more true than ever.
The latest U-turn relates to the Brigade of Gurkhas, which was sharply cut back as part of early Army 2020 phases and was several times described as a potential victim of disbandment.

I've been saying for ages that, among the many good reasons to keep the Brigade of Gurkhas going, there is the simple fact that there never is a shortage of Gurkhas volunteering for service, making this formation invaluable for filling manpower gaps.
And currently, even against the very low target of 82.000 regulars, the Army has a sizeable manpower gap and a recruitment and retention problem.

Enter the U-turn on Gurkha cuts. The brigade (which was all but overmanned in 2010) finished to shred personell as mandated by 2010 cuts just last year, and now is being expanded by 642 new positions, going back, more or less, to pre-cuts liability levels.
The brigade had more than 3000 posts until 2010, but that was cut down to the current low of 2612. The 642 new positions bring liability back to 3254.

"Cheers for all your hard work making people redundant, Gurkha Brigade HQ. Now that you are done, call back everyone."

The most "amusing" is the literal invite to those who have just been kicked out in the four tranches of redundancies to come back in their previous rank and without paying back the Compensation lump sums received.

Brigade of Gurkhas current composition: 

Headquarters Brigade of Gurkhas (HQBG) is now based at the Former Army Staff College, Camberly, Surrey and is responsible for providing advice on all matters relating to the recruiting and employment of Gurkhas in the British Army.
It also helps coordinate welfare for retired Gurkhas in the UK. HQBG is not part of the operational chain of command and has no operational units directly under it, but it provides an important unifying element for the Brigade, its activities and its soldiers.

Headquarters British Gurkhas Nepal (BGN) is situated in Jawalakhel, Patan, just south of the river from central Kathmandu. BGN co-ordinates Gurkha recruitment, provides local support to the soldier and ex-servicemen and maintains Disaster Relief preparedness within resources in order to support Firm Base activity in Nepal.

Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support Company was formed on 30 Jun 2011. GSPS personnel were known as Gurkha Clerks before the inception of GSPS.

Gurkha Company (Mandalay) is located in Brecon, Wales and provides support to the Infantry Battle School (INFBS). The INFBS conducts realistic battle training for officers who have passed out of Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and for Warrant Officers, SNCOs and JNCOs. Gurkha Company provides training support to the INFBS, enabling world class training for those undergoing courses at Brecon.

Gurkha Company (Sittang) dates back to 1972 and is as an integral part of the Royal Military Academy Sandhusrt (RMAS). Sittang Company provides training support to the Academy, enabling world class training for the Army’s future leaders.

Gurkha Company is located at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick and is part of the 2nd Infantry Training Battalion. Its mission is to mould Nepalese youths into trained soldiers who will live up to the traditions of the Brigade of Gurkhas.

The Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas was raised in Nov 1859 as part of an Indian Gurkha Regiment called the Sirmoor Rifle Regiment. It has 16 Bandsmen and one Naik (a leader and soon became a part of Regimental life, playing for parades, polo matches, dinners and troop entertainment at the Regimental base at Dehradun, North East of Delhi. In early days the Band travelled with the Regiment to other areas of India, Malta, Cyprus and Afghanistan.

The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment also known as 10 The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment or 10 QOGLR is a regiment of the British Army. The regiment forms part of the Royal Logistics Corps and was created on 5 April 2001. The regiment was formed as a merger of The Queen’s Own Gurkha Transport Regiment, The Gurkha Transport Regiment and The Gurkha Army Service Corps; which were formed as component parts of The Brigade of Gurkhas on 1 July 1958.

It is currently composed of: 

36 (HQ) Squadron 
1 Supply Squadron
28 Fuel and General Transport Squadron 

The Queen’s Gurkha Signals (QGS) is a regular unit of Royal Corps of Signals, one of the combat support arms of British Army. Together with the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers, the Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment and the Royal Gurkha Rifles they form part of the Brigade of Gurkhas. QGS was formed during The Malayan Emergency to support the 17th Gurkha Division.

-         Army 2020 establishment: 481 (down from 522 + 22 recruits in training)

-          246 Signal Squadron, 2 Signal Regiment
-          248 Signal Squadron, 22 Signal Regiment
-          250 Signal Squadron, 30 Signal Regiment
-          Brunei Signal Troop
-          Nepal Signal Troop
-          Alpha Troop, 217 Signal Squadron, 22 Signal Regiment
-          Seremban Troop, 44 RLC Sqn, Sandhurst academy (Troop commander, 3 NCOs, 12 signallers)

The Queen’s Gurkha Engineers (QGE). Gurkhas were first enlisted into the Royal Engineers in September 1948 when a Gurkha Training Squadron RE was formed. The British Officers were drawn from the Corps of Royal Engineers, 1st King George’s Own Bengal Sappers and Miners, 2nd Queen Victoria’s Own Madras Sappers and Miners, 3rd Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners and Gurkha Officers and Other Ranks were drawn from 2nd King Edward VII’s Own Goorkhas (The Sirmoor Rifles), 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Rifles and 10th Princess Mary’s Own Gurkha Rifles.

-          Army 2020 liability for 284 all ranks

-          69 Gurkha Field Squadron. 36 Royal Engineers Regiment
-          70 Gurkha Field Squadron, 36 Royal Engineers Regiment
-          ARRC Close Support Troop and ARRC Engineer Section from October 2014, based in Gloucester.  (26 RGR + 8 QGE)

1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles is a regiment of the British Army, forming part of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Royal Gurkha Rifles are now the sole infantry regiment of the British Army Gurkhas. Like the other Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies, the regiment is recruited from Gurkhas, a term for people from Nepal, which is a nation independent of the United Kingdom and not a member of the Commonwealth. The regiment was formed in 1994 from the amalgamation of the four separate Gurkha regiments in the British Army.

October 2015 deal with Sultanate renews partnership; 1st Gurkha Rifles to stay for “next five years”, suggesting a slow-down in unit rotations. 

2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles (RGR) is a regiment of the British Army, forming part of the Brigade of Gurkhas. The Royal Gurkha Rifles are now the sole infantry regiment of the British Army Gurkhas. Like the other Gurkha regiments of the British and Indian armies, the regiment is recruited from Gurkhas, a term for people from Nepal, which is a nation independent of the United Kingdom and not a member of the Commonwealth. The regiment was formed in 1994 from the amalgamation of the four separate Gurkha regiments in the British Army. Under Army 2020 it was due to be part of 11 Infantry Brigade but, in another U-turn, it was assigned to 16 Air Assault brigade when it became evident that just 2 PARA battalions were not enough (another very obvious thing which somehow had to be "discovered"). 

Repeatedly through the history of the british army, sub-units of Gurkhas have been formed and disdanded to fill manpower gaps in other regiments. Until recently, there was a Gurkha formation of engineers within 24 Commando Engineer Regiment, for example. 
We will undoubtedly see more of this in the future, too. 

A few gurkha engineers and logisticians who left the army under the redundancy tranches transferred into the Royal Navy, and i've been wondering for months now on whether the Royal Navy could / should open up its own recruitment unit in Nepal, to bring in some much needed manpower. 

The new expansion 

234 new positions will be added to Royal Gurkha Rifles, Gurkha Staff and Personnel Support and Gurkha Engineers over the next 3 years. 

A new squadron of Gurkhas will be formed within the Royal Signals within the next three years, which is very good news because the army has a massive, massive shortage of Signals resources as i've detailed on these pages in many occasions. 

The Gurkha Logistic Regiment will expand by 2 new squadrons, which is good news because logistics are another area badly hit by Army 2020 cuts, and the regiment is currently pretty weak, with just two squadrons plus HQ and an establishment of 471, with a concept of operation based on the assumption that lots of local contractors would be hired in theatre to fill the gaps. 


The Gurkha brigade remains a very precious element within the Army, and an invaluable reserve of loyal volunteers. 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Status update: what is moving and what is not

Army plans

In April 2014, the MOD decided to split the massive “Mounted Close Combat Capability Change” programme into four:

-          Armoured Cavalry 2025
-          Armoured Infantry 2026
-          Armour; Main Battle Tank 2025
-          Mechanized Infantry 2029

The date at the end indicates the desired completion time. The budget for the Mounted Close Combat super-programme was 17.251,83 million pounds.
Data released this year, and current to September 2015, reveals that the Armoured Cavalry programme has a budget of 6831,55 million, for procuring, putting in service and supporting for the first few years the Ajax fleet.
The Armoured Infantry programme is chiefly composed by Warrior CSP, but the army also “aspires” to finally launching the Armoured Battlegroup Support Vehicle programme. The budget is currently given as 2176,45 million, but since ABSV is yet to come and the Warrior CSP procurement hasn’t yet been contracted, the sum is destined to grow.
No additional update is given on the status of MBT 2025 and MI 2029. Assuming the overall budget is still 17 billion, there are 8243,85 million to commit to the missing pieces, the biggest of which is clearly going to be the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle 8x8.

The Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme, another initiative that is navigating a tormented and endless path to a Main Gate point that never seems to arrive, was described as having a budget going from 1.2 billion to 700 million. The latest figure I’ve come across is 920 million.
Even 700 million pounds are quite a lot of money for a Life Extension Programme which is not expected to touch the gun and that will not replace the powerpack. It is hard to say why changing sights and communications should cost so much on Challenger 2 when a similar programme in France is going on for some 300 million euro.
Is it an implicit admission that Challenger 2 obsolescence is truly that desperate…?

We know very little about the MIV programme, too. The latest words of general Nick Carter suggest a requirement for 4 battalion sets (two battalions for each “Strike” brigade), which is one more than was planned under Army 2020 (one mechanized battalion in each of the three Reaction Force brigades). There are clear requirements for a multitude of variants, including mortar carrier, ATGW and ambulance, but there is no certainty that money will be there to actually do something about it.

Meanwhile, there have been reports about the British Army being very interested in purchasing American Joint Light Tactical Vehicles as solution for the Multi Role Vehicle Protected requirement. Due for production in the tens of thousands, the JLTV might be the only product with a realistic chance to achieve a pricetag close to the MOD objective of 250.000 pounds per vehicle.
The MRV-P programme remains, in my opinion, somewhat confused. Its relationship with existing vehicles such as Foxhound, Husky and Panther is unclear, and the numbers indicated for the first purchase are too low: if there is no money for greater numbers and if there isn’t actual clarity about what to do with it, the British Army should not add yet another vehicle to its already vast collection.
Clarity is needed, first of all. The British Army should also determine the future of Light Protected Mobility Battalions, and act consequently: if they are to be serious warfighting tools, they should not depend on old Land Rover WMIKs to provide firepower support to the Foxhounds. Mobility, but moreover protection, are unequal, with the Land Rover at serious disadvantage. Purchasing more Foxhounds, in WMIK and in Logistic configurations, would give these units a whole different level of effectiveness.
It is also necessary to think about how to distribute Husky and MRV-P, and how to move from the first to the second over time.

General Carter also candidly confirmed to the Defence Committee that the “defence engagement battalions” will be small (just 300 men) in no small part due to the need to recoup manpower to direct towards the Strike Brigades and the other units needed to make it feasible to deploy at Division scale, as mandated by the SDSR. Two to five infantry battalions will be downsized and re-orbated, meaning that the manpower margin recouped varies from 500 to 1300 men.
Beyond the obvious (freeing up manpower without being allowed to disband battalions and face capbadge bunfights), the Defence Engagement battalions are supposed to become the go-to units when it comes to training, mentoring and helping friendly forces abroad. Supposedly, these battalions will be elite units, containing a greater number of officers, SNCOs and specialists, but there is every reason to be doubtful in front of the claim: where are those specialists going to come from, considering that the manpower is already an issue now?


There are now an official announcement and a deal signed for the procurement of 50 Apache at the Block III standard, and this is good news, because it hopefully dispels the risk of seeing the number dropping even further.
The confusion around the Apache situation endures, however, since the MOD, Boeing and everyone else appear unable to provide details and a definitive answer to the question: is it a remanufacturing project, or a new build programme?

The answer seem to be: it is a remanufacturing project, but so much of the helicopter will be newly built that confusion is legitimate. Existing Apache AH1 will be dismantled and the valid systems and components will move across to the new machines, receiving the upgrades and changes needed.
The Apache remanufacturing involves a new rotor, new and more powerful engines, updated sights and targeting system, updated radar, newly built airframe, data link 16, manned-unmanned teaming and other upgrades. The US Army is rebuilding all of its own Apaches, uplifting them to AH-64E, and will also procure around 60 wholly new as replacements for losses and attrition.

The first british AH-64E is expected to come out of factory during 2020, and the In Service Date is given as 2022. The new airframe, made of composites and slightly modified to better accommodate the Block III systems, comes with a life of 10.000 hours. It should be less prone to corrosion issues, despite the lack of proper navalization: the US Army has been bringing the Apache out on ships more and more frequently in the Pacific theatre, so the British Army should not have any grave issue. Manually folding rotor should come as standard.
The AH-64E won’t be a naval helicopter, but the Apache AH1 never was, either. The addition of some features (including emergency floatation gear) over time remains desirable to make shipboard operations simpler and safer.

Boeing and MBDA have just completed a series of MOD-funded Brimstone launches from an AH-64E, and the results have been good. The MOD hopes to replace Hellfire in 2021, and Brimstone, offered by MBDA as the Future Attack Helicopter Weapon, is the obvious choice. An integration contract should materialize sometime in the near future, so that the AH-64E can enter service with it as its main weapon.

The MBDA video about FAHW is very interesting, and it shows two important features: airburst detonation mode and anti-air employment of Brimstone. The US Army has experimented ground-launched Hellfire missiles as anti-UAS weapons, and a similar capability for Brimstone, extending also to larger and more challenging targets (such as the KA-52 in the video) would be particularly helpful for British Apaches which have never been equiped with Stinger missiles nor with Starstreak, despite a demonstration campaign carried out years ago.

P-8 Poseidon and Sentinel R1: the future of ISTAR

The regeneration of MPA capability is finally confirmed and on the move, and we also have a delivery schedule:

2 aircraft will be ordered in 2017 for delivery in April and December 2019 (Production Lot 8)
3 aircraft will be ordered in 2018 for delivery during 2020  (Production Lot 9)
4 aircraft will be ordered in 2019 for delivery in 2021  (Production Lot 10) 

Unless there are delays on the US side, these dates imply that the UK Poseidons will come with Increment 3 standard. It should also come with 6 rather than 5 workstations, following the US and Australian decision to fit the additional console to better exploit the growing capabilities of the type.

What we do not know yet is how (or even if) these airplanes will be armed. The UK has elected to follow a pure Off The Shelf approach for the purchase, so that no british weaponry will be integrated, at least for now. The question thus becomes whether or not the UK will order a stock of US torpedoes (and wing-kits for their deployment from altitude) and whether anything will be done on the anti-ship missile front. With the loss of the Nimrod, the RAF also lost its last anti-ship platform, after all, and it is not clear if the old stock of air launched Harpoon is still in storage and if it could still be used. 

The current thinking in the MOD is that the P-8 Poseidon will also replace Sentinel R1 in the 2020s, but how this will be done is not, at this stage, clear. An obvious solution is trying to obtain from the US the export of their AN/APQ-154 Advanced Airborne Sensor radar pod, which is in development specifically for the P-8 and is also serving as base for the radar proposed by Raytheon for the USAF’s JSTARS replacement programme.
Fitting a different radar sensor is also an option: the P-8 can take it, and can carry out long range overland radar surveillance, despite flying tipically a bit lower than Sentinel.
One issue, already underlined by RAF officers, is that 9 aircraft are too few to properly cover both sea and land requirements. An additional batch of 3 aircraft would help, and the number 12 has circulated at times in the period leading up to the SDSR: if Sentinel will leave service in the early 2020s, increasing the number of P-8s and adding a land-surveillance radar will be very important.

As part of stealth cuts meant to free up money and manpower to make the investments of the SDSR 2015 possible, the RAF is due to cut the Sentinel R1 fleet from 5 to 4 aircraft and from 10 to 5 crews, while also reducing the extent of upgrades initially proposed for the platform. Air Commodore Dean Andrew, commander of the RAF ISTAR Force, however, has made it abundantly clear that he opposes this approach and will try to have the idea shredded. Unfortunately, time is not on his side, considering that the cut is scheduled for September.
The situation is complicated by the ever present problem of manpower: the RAF was granted a small uplift in personnel number in the SDSR, but at the same time it was loaded with a great number of requests which all require manpower. Supposedly, the Sentinel’s companion, the Shadow R1, should see the fleet expanded from 5 (+1 currently without mission kit, only good for training) to 8. There is a proposal to uplift the number of combat-ready Sentry crews from 5 to 12 by 2021. There will be Poseidon to man. There will be 20 Protector, which much greater endurance, in place of 10 Reaper, and these might have no pilot on board but require a great number of people back in the base. 14 C-130Js are now expected to remain, and the number of combat jet squadrons will now (thankfully) stay around 9, rather than drop to 6.
It is very clear that manpower is a problem. Poseidon alone is likely to require as many men as the SDSR gave, and maybe more, so the RAF needs to shift manpower around from within the current totals. If someone gains, someone else is bound to lose.
And, obviously, it also takes time to shift people around, re-train personnel and/or recruit and train new people.
There is an expectation that the CBRN mission will transfer to the Army, so the RAF Regiment is probably due to shrink by a sizeable number in the coming years, but the manpower margin is not immediately transferable and will not, in itself, solve the problems.
I do not think I’d feel surprised at all if the extra AWACS crews and additional Shadow R1 ended up never materializing. They seem to me to be commitments from which it will be easy to retreat in silence and darkness.

A number of upgrades for Sentinel have been funded and will proceed. These include a maritime radar mode for the radar, to appear sometime in 2018; increased SAR resolution and improved SatCom are also on the list, all to be delivered during 2017 and 2018.
A number of other upgrades remain, presently, not funded: these include adding ELINT capability, upgrading the cockpit and mission consoles and adding a Long Range Optical Sensor (the DB-110 used in the RAPTOR pod was mentioned in the past few months) to complement the radar.
Sentinel is a precious ISTAR asset and delivers extremely valuable battlefield surveillance that should not be lost, so its future (and eventually its replacement) remain a topic to follow with attention.

Meanwhile, the MOD has signed a deal to procure Protector itself through a hybrid Foreign Military Sale process, which will enable the RAF to work together with GA-ASI to modify their “Certifiable Predator B” to turn it into Protector.
The Certifiable Predator B is an internal effort started by GA-ASI to build a more capable Reaper complete of Due Regard sensor capability for flight in non-segregated airspace. It also comes with a new and longer wing carrying more fuel, giving an endurance in the 40 hours region.
The wings also should offer greater payload margins: an image released by GA-ASI shows 4 triple Brimstone racks and 2 Paveway bombs installed on a Protector. This would not be possible on Reaper, as the third station on its wing (never really employed) can only carry some 70 kg.

Certifiable Predator B with Brimstone racks. 

The Protector should massively expand the capabilities of the RAF, but it will be interesting to see if some efforts will be made to make it more survivable in presence of some enemy air defence. The Reaper is pretty much defenceless, but as Protector becomes more capable and more expensive, it would make sense to try and make it less vulnerable.
It could be worth a try to adapt the self-defence pods currently employed by Tornado GR4, since they have been upgraded and improved in recent times (first the BOZ dispenser of Flares, and lastly the Cerberus EW pods, which have been upgraded to “Common Jamming Pod, with electronics equal to those of the Typhoon’s DASS and with the same towed radar decoy added in as well) and could still be useful for years after the Tornado will be gone.

Weapon and sensor choices will also be important. Integrating Brimstone and Paveway IV seems the right thing to do, unless the special (and rather advantageous) current agreement with the USAF for access to their stocks of Hellfire and GBU-12 is to continue.
The RAF also spoke, back when the programme was known as SCAVENGER, of common pods to be developed and certified, with the ability to rapidly switch the payload within them to enable rapid evolution of the drone’s capability. This is a smart approach, and hopefully will still feature in Protector.

The UK is also looking at setting up a UAS School in the UK, since the USAF is already hard pressed to train its own UAS crews, and will struggle to take care of foreign needs. Simulation should enable aircraft-free training, but the actual solution has yet to be chosen. 

A long sundown for the Hawk T1

With 208(R) Sqn now disbanded, the Hawk T1 is no longer used in training of fast jet crews, but it remains employed for air support to operational training, playing Aggressor in air to air battles; helping to qualify JTACs and assaulting Royal Navy ships to let them hone their air defence skills. The Hawk T1 also is the Red Arrows’ mount.
It will be around for many years still, yet its sundown is due to begin relatively soon. The MOD has decided that 736 NAS will lose its Hawk T1s in 2020; followed by 100 Sqn around 2027 and finally by the Red Arrows in 2030 (or by 2035).

The Royal Navy is the first to have to grapple with the problem, which is also connected to the current arrangement for EW and threat simulation coming to an end in the same timeframe. Currently, a fleet of Falcon DA20 provided and crewed by Cobham provide 6500 hours a year of service in support of training exercises, jamming radars and electronically simulating aircraft and weapons. The Royal Navy is the main customer of the service, with 3500 hours, followed by 2500 for the RAF and 500 for contingencies.

The MOD has launched a new project for procuring a new solution to these requirements, under the name ASDOT, Air Support to Defence Operational Training. Interestingly, Qinetiq and Thales have agreed on jointly offering the Textron Scorpion aircraft as platform for the new service.
The pick is somewhat puzzling, because the Scorpion does not appear to be particularly suited to be an Aggressor, lacking in speed and agility. Even as replacement EW platform it seems not entirely suited, due to having only 2 crew on board, against a typical minimum of 3 for the Falcon 20.
The Scorpion will have no trouble carrying the panoply of pods employed by the Falcon (radar simulator pod, jammer pods, RAIDS pod) and it also has a weapons bay that could be used for additional payloads, but it might take some work to turn it into a proper replacement for Falcon.
It should excel at supporting JTAC and Fire Support Teams training, though.

ASDOT will be an interesting programme, judging by this beginning. We’ll see if and how 736 NAS will survive the award of the ASDOT contract: will the service provider be tasked with all the flying too, or will the current Hawk T1 part of the job still be carried out by navy pilots? It is not clear at this stage.

For RAF Red Air purposes, there have been suggestions which have included using some of the Typhoon Tranche 1, in order to have an enemy with the necessary speed and agility and sensors.

Fixed and Rotary Wing crew training 

With the award of the contract for the renewal of the rotary wing training fleet, the Military Flying Training System has made a decisive step forwards. However, concerns remain: the SDSR 2015 has brought a sizeable uplift in the number of crews to be trained, and while the number of instructors planned has been adjusted, the number of training aircraft has not been.

Before the SDSR 2015, the number of instructors was expected to be as low as 64 military and 34 civilian. This has been uplifted to 71 and 62. The number of aircraft purchased, however, has not changed from pre-SDSR expectations. 

The SDSR 2015, thanks first of all to the purchase of the P-8 Poseidon, has also re-introduced a sizeable training requirement for mission crew. The plan for training "back-seaters" has not been detailed yet, but is something that requires some thought.

In the Rotary Wing arena, we will have to see if Joint Helicopter Command will be able to pursue a further element later, that of "surrogate" helicopters for training. The idea emerged a while ago, of procuring cheap helicopters to equip as "flying simulators" to employ in some Wildcat and Apache training phases to save money.
It is to be seen what will happen to the Army's advanced helicopter crew course in Middle Wallop, as well.
An element of advanced training has been designed thanks to the formation back in April of 202(R) Sqn in RAF Valley. This "new" unit is actually the re-named and re-purposed SARTU (SAR Training Unit) which was no longer required in its original role of preparing SAR crews since that incumbence has now been moved under the Department for Transports.
202 Sqn will now provide overland and overwater winch training along with day/night mountain flying techniques and NVD operations for all RN/ RAF abinitio pilots and crewman who are destined for Support Helicopter (SH) roles.  In addition, a new course is being developed to offer bespoke training to current experienced SH operators in order to enhance their skill sets.

Air Weapons 

Brimstone 2 has been finally put into service, after several months of delays due to difficulties emerged during development. The weapon is now operational on Tornado GR4 and is being integrated on Typhoon. 
Typhoon weapons integration is finally getting serious, with Meteor, Storm Shadow and Brimstone to enter service over the next two years. 
The AESA radar has finally been flown for the first time (several months later than was hoped last year) and hopefully its integration will be part of the Phase 4 Enhancements, post 2018. 

Work is also ongoing on the new bunker-buster warhad for Paveway IV, which has begun validation trials. Discussions have also already begun on ensuring that the Block IV software for the F-35 will include functional integration of the bunker-buster warhead variant. 
SPEAR 3 has been dropped for the first time, from a Typhoon. The weapon is planned for integration on the F-35 sometime in the first half of the 2020s, as part of the Block IV programme, which is expected to also include Meteor. 

Royal Navy UAS plans: ambitions, but no money

The Royal Navy has tried to launch a couple of UAS programmes in the 2016 Budget Cycle, but at least one of the two did not receive funding, Jane’s reports.
The Navy had hoped to launch the Flexible Deployable UAS programme in order to procure a replacement for the current flights of contractor-owned, contractor-operated  Scan Eagle UAS. The idea for FDUAS was not particularly detailed in public, but the Navy was looking for a “Scan Eagle plus” system offering greater “Find” capability. Purchasing a number of RQ-21 Integrator, the larger brother to Scan Eagle, already selected for USMC and US Navy use, could have possibly been a solution on the table. For now, it won’t happen.
Jane’s suggests that the Royal Navy, as a consequence, will lose the embarked UAS capability, but given the ridiculously small sums of money required, I believe the Scan Eagle deal will end up renewed before it expires next year.

The other UAS programme the Royal Navy wanted to launch is the Joint Mini UAS, and its target is procuring a more capable replacement for Desert Hawk. Obviously, the hope is to have a single programme run in common with the Army. It is currently impossible to say whether this has been able to secure some funding or not. Desert Hawk III has received an upgrade giving it digital communications and has seen its operational life extended 6 years, out to 2021. Further upgrades are being evaluated but are not under contract: LM offers a "3.1" upgrade package that extends endurance from a maximum of 90 to 150 minutes; fully waterproofs the drone and replaces the current interchangeable sensors with an integrated electro-optic, infrared and laser illuminator payload, so that all functions are available at the same time. 

This upgrade might be a cheap solution for making the DH III the mini-UAV of choice well into the 2020s, but the Army and the Royal Marines are already investigating a replacement. Plextek is working to develop a miniaturized solution for Sense and Avoid and also a mini radar sensor that could fit within a mini-UAV fit to replace DH.
Sense and Avoid would make it much safer to employ low-flying UAVs in areas where helicopter movements are also present: the British Army has had near miss events which have caused some worry.

Potentially good news for the Royal Navy come, indirectly, from the Apache CSP deal going to Boeing, as Leonardo Helicopters (ex AgustaWestland) has received, as a consolation prize, MOD reassurances about funding for the development of an unmanned helicopter. The Royal Navy wants a Rotary Wing UAS in the 2020s, so at least on this front it might have managed to move an important step forwards.

Frigates despair

Waiting for the Shipbuilding Strategy due in October, I can’t help but despair at the direction that frigate programmes have taken in the Royal Navy. The General Purpose Frigate programme launched by the SDSR 2015 is apparently aiming extremely low, and the lack of ASW usefulness is a real concern when looking at these frigates that seem not to have a clear role other than existing.
BMT is offering its Venator 110 design, and now BAE has revealed two proposal of its own, Avenger and Cutlass. The first, incredibly underwhelming and ugly, is a stretched River Batch 2 turned into a 111 meters “frigate” with some CAMM missiles and a 127mm gun.
Cutlass is little better, being a 117 meters extended Khareef corvette, in itself a development of the River design.

Above, the Avenger concept and, below, the Cutlass. Avenger seems to have CAMM cells in the boxy superstructure added amidship, while Cutlass has them in the same position occupied by Mica VL on the Khareef class. Both ships have some mission reconfigurable space amidship. 

I can only be deeply critical regarding the whole affair. Again, we are back to the actual question: what is this "frigate" actually good for? And the answer always is, not much. Everything it can do comes with a load of caveats and assumptions about enemy capabilities and about other ships accompanying. 
This is looking, to me, as the very definition of waste of money, especially considering that the Royal Navy is going to have some 6 OPVs (and it could easily have more by life-extending River Batch 1s) and, soon enough, it'll have to start thinking about what platform to build to replace the minesweepers. And that one will probably emerge as a platform good enough at a range of constabulary tasks as well. 

Suddenly, the Royal Navy goes from having pretty much no low tier at all to having 3 different low tier classes, paid by opening an even bigger hole in Escort numbers. In my opinion this is abject failure in planning and strategic coherence. The result of having few ideas, and well confused, shaped by eternal budget-driven short termism. The same short termism that, elsewhere, generated air refueling tankers with drogues and strategic platforms (the receivers) fitted with receptacles.

Escort ships must be good at escorting. In a world of ever faster and deadlier missiles, of drones and of resurgent submarine fleets, Avenger and Cutlass have little to offer. Even Type 26 itself is concerning. I’ve been worried all along by the propulsion architecture chosen, which I fear will become a major issue in the future when new systems will require more power. The feeling is that the Type 45 propulsion fuck up resulted in a full and hasty retreat from integrated fully electric propulsion, and the fear is that this retreat might be, in a non distant future, cursed bitterly.

I’m increasingly worried about the capabilities that the Type 26 will actually deliver. With no programmes evident about replacing Harpoon and with no real talk about ASROC-like weapons for ASW, nor about cruise missiles for land attack, the question of what will arm Type 26 becomes more and more pressing. Someone is bound to ask, at some point, if the MK41 modules at the front are meant to contain something, and if the Royal Navy hasn’t planned ahead for it, the only possible outcome is “Fitted For But Not With” MK41. It is a movie we already saw.
But if that happens, and it is looking more and more likely, Type 26 will be an extremely underwhelming ship, without ASuW (there are no provision for above-deck canisters), without torpedo tubes, without ASROC, without anything other than CAMM and 127mm gun. 
The ship will have become uselessly expensive just to incorporate empty space "for future growth", while lagging badly in every area for at least the first part of its service life. 

If the Royal Navy ends up with such a planning failure, we will no longer have doubts about why admirals no longer make it into the Chief of Defence Staff chair. It is a bitterly painful state of affairs, because the Type 26 was the programme that had to save the Royal Navy, and might instead be, along with GPFF, the one that sinks its credibility for good. 

It is my firm opinion that it is time to think long and hard at how to make surface combat ships (bothering with the terms "frigate", "destroyer" and "cruiser" has been steadily losing relevance) actually good at something again. 
They are increasingly vulnerable to air attacks and to submarines, yet little is being done to improve the situation. The US Navy is at least trying, retrofitting its destroyers for ASW, developing the Continuous Active Sonar and investing on the rail gun, on networked, cooperative engagement of air threats etcetera, while the Royal Navy seems to be almost dead in the water.

I've written a lot about my views regarding surface warships for the future, and i recommend reading the two main articles, which i hope will contribute to encouraging discussion and innovation.

Are escort ships still up to task? 

What is a Type 31?

MARS Fleet Solid Support 

The MOD confirms that the Heavy RAS demonstrator from Rolls Royce proved that the 5 tons RAS is achievable. This is a key future feature for FSS, enabling it to transfer large paylods to the aircraft carriers, much quicker. It will also enable the new supply ships to resupply the carriers with spare F-135 engines for the F-35s. 

The MOD has begun talking with industry about the 3 FSS ships, which should be delivered "around the middle of the 2020s". The current ships Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin and For Victoria are expected to pay off beginning in 2023, but we have to assume there could be a further slip to the right to adjust the timeframe. 

The requirement has been officially classed as "non warlike", meaning that foreign shipyards will be able to present their offers, making it quite likely that, just like the Tide tankers, the FSSs will be built abroad.