Sunday, 11 April 2010

Second Correspondence

Following my first reply,I was asked further questions to which the following was my response:

"the ability to deploy a radar at high altitude is very advantageous.

In support of air combat assets which might be operating a thousand miles from the carrier,this can only practically be done by fixed wing platforms.

For ship defence,helicopters and aerostats become possibilities.

Cost and technical risk make an unmanned platform look unlikely for this role at present.

Without over the horizon radar,surface ships cannot detect an attack,let alone counter it until the missile is very close,typically about 15 miles away.

Modern anti-ship missiles fly at three times the speed of sound,the next generation may be faster.

That gives very little reaction time,too little in the event of multiple incoming missiles.

Defending in such a situation is difficult,if something is difficult to do,it is usually expensive to do.

Our warfighting capability is defined by money.

We end up with very expensive warships like the Type 45 which can defend only a very small area at low level.

On the other hand,aircraft are usually cheaper to buy than ships but also much more expensive to operate.

Some figures put the cost per flying hour of a Typhoon at £90,000.

At that rate,keeping just two aircraft on combat air patrol would cost about £1,600 Million a year.

You could probably operate about thirty destroyers for that money with perhaps ten of those kept at sea all the time.

This is why the Falklands is defended by just two Typhoons on ground alert,maintaining a combat air patrol or keeping a radar early warning aircraft airborne would just cost too much.

Surface ships are very good at persistence but the aircraft give superior radar horizon.

This makes ships very good at sustained defence and aircraft very good at surging for major warfighting,together they work very well.

It would be far cheaper to have one or the other but that would create vulnerabilities.

We could not afford to keep aircraft above the carrier all the time and the destroyer would not be able to survive in high threat environments without the carrier aircraft.

For the same reason,surface ships are needed for routine patrols.

These could be done by cheaper brigs but they would be vulnerable to any hostile force with a point to prove.

A general purpose frigate can take on a limited hostile force at least and defend the carrier when things become more serious.

Using frigates for patrol also allows them to gain experience and to pick up things that a brig would miss,like the chinese submarine which bumped into an American destroyer recently.

The key is balance,the Royal Navy tried to buy an extremely unbalanced force.

Originally it was planning to spend four times as much money on twelve destroyers as it was going to spend on two aircraft carriers (and ended up spending much the same budget on two carriers and six destroyers).

Given that the carriers are usually the most useful warfighting asset and that the destroyers were only a small part of the surface fleet,I would suggest that they got their priorities wrong.

Surface ships are useful but their cost must be in proportion to their utility.

It is this proportionality which is the problem with the Type 45 destroyer.

At £6,600 Million for just six ships,they look extremely expensive.

However,that is the programme cost.

The production cost is about £650 Million per ship which is about half what the Americans are paying for the latest Arleigh Burke class destroyers and much the same as the latest Spanish destroyer.

The often criticised British defence industry is much better than many give it credit for.

Because the Type 45 has a bespoke to role air defence suite,thousands of millions of pounds were added to the programme costs.

Had these costs been spread over the whole surface fleet,or even across other services,that would have been a justifiable expense.

For just twelve air defence destroyers it was an unjustifiable extravagance.

Spread over the six strong class which was eventually ordered,this added hundreds of millions of pounds to each ship.

Similarly the small production run prevented significant economies of scale from being realised.

These factors led to the high programme unit cost.

The Type 45s utility was restricted by it's air defence only role.

The end result of high cost and limited roles is a class whose cost is out of all proportion to their utility.

This penny packeting of surface combatant production also has knock on effects on other future surface combatants.

With six destroyers in the fleet,the future frigates will be built in smaller numbers at higher unit costs.

These problems cannot all be blamed on the navy,the fragmented British missile programme left them little choice but to contribute to the development of an all new missile system.

Had there existed a coherent tri-service missile procurement doctrine,not only would the Type 45s have looked far better value for money but thousands of millions of pounds would have been saved over the last decade.

At present we have about 330 fast jets costing an average of £11 Million a year each.

About 200 of those are with 15 frontline squadrons,the rest with training units or in mainteance or storage.

A quarter of that 200 are engaged in air defence.

That leaves 150 aircraft for expeditionary warfighting.

We can make significant financial savings by using the carrier's sortie generating advantage to "do airpower" with fewer carrier based aircraft.

To avoid risking all our expeditionary airpower on one ship,we would ideally have at least two carrier wings.

As air wings go down in size,so does their efficiency and the number of ships,and hence cost,required to deploy them goes up.

Keeping the number of wings to a practical minimum number and maximum size is then desireable.

Carrier wings cannot be at sea permanently so rotating them with the land based wing is also a good idea,which suggests the land based wing and the carrier based wing should be the same 50 strong size. 

If we have two 50 strong carrier wings,we make significant financial savings which more than pay for the carriers while generating more airpower than we could from land bases.

I consider this to be the ideal for the United Kingdom.

A larger number of smaller carriers would add cost but reduce capability.

It would be possible to take the budget we spend on surface combatants and use it for carriers.

Assuming none of the carriers had surface combatant escorts,we could have two additional carriers with air wings and replenishment vessels from that budget.

That would give us a strong power projection capability but those carriers would be extremely vulnerable in situations short of war and when they did not have aircraft in the air.

They would also be unable to escort other ships,conduct patrols and do all the other sea control jobs as they could be in very few places at once.

For example,a carrier is not a good tool for stopping and searching ships which might be suspected of minelaying,smuggling,piracy or spying.

Sea control is critical in power projection.

During the American revolution,the Royal Navy lost sea control in the Atlantic,directly resulting in the loss of the war.

The Axis forces could not control the Mediterranean in 1942,their lack of sea control led directly to the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa.

Japan's armies were defeated long before the atom bombs were dropped in 1945 because she could not protect her supply lines from submarines.

Allied forces could not have projected power into Europe in 1944 without maintaining sea control in the Atlantic.

The English fleet's sea control defeated the Spanish Armada's attempt at power projection.

The failure to maintain sea control of the English channel led directly to the invasion of England by the Romans and Normans.

While the Royal Navy is often used to deliver the British Army to foreign shores,the Normandy landings for example.

The Army is also often used to help the Royal Navy gain sea control,the Crimean War for example.

Without power projection forces it is not possible to maintain sea control and with out sea control it is not possible to do power projection.

The key is to have a balanced fleet.

An all carrier fleet would not be viable but reducing the ratio of surface combatants to carriers would.

During the Falklands War we had about 21 surface combatants in service for every aircraft carrier (including Illustrious).

The fleet I outlined previously would have a ratio of 8 surface combatants for every carrier.

I consider that a more appropriate balance.

The fleet I outlined above would be capable of delivering an army heavy division across a beach in a single lift following an air assault by a commando brigade supported by two carrier wings.

Additional divisions would follow on later.

Only the Americans come close to a capability like that.

There is at least £2,000 - £3,000 Million a year of slack in the current defence budget which could expand the army to a five division force,enough to sustain a division or surge a corps.

Combined with the fleet and air forces I outlined,that would be my "fantasy forces".

Regarding submarines,they are very useful but very expensive and limited in what they can do.

Surface ships have a wider utility,for example,a frigate can protect a convoy from maritime patrol aircraft as well as submarines.

We do need to reduce the number of platform types doing anti submarine work.

The best way to do that is by cutting back on expensive to operate aircraft.

We currently have three anti submarine aircraft types,I would suggest we need only one or two at most.

Though the question of whether that should be only fixed wing or rotary aircraft is not a simple matter."

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