Sunday, 11 April 2010

Third Correspondence

This is the last in a series of replies to questions asked (and consequently may read as a series of unconnected points):

"Merlin was one of the great tragicomedies of defence procurement.

Having spent thousands of millions of pounds developing the finest medium helicopter in the world we then order only a handful of them resulting in the manufacturer being bought out by the Italians.

Worse still,instead of building multirole airframes in quantity we have naval helicopters with no rear ramp and de-navalised transport variants all made in small quantities.

The mixed helicopter fleet is a big problem for the captain of a Type 45 destroyer.

With no onboard anti-submarine and anti-ship capability he might choose to have a Merlin on board but then his helicopter will lack surface search and attack capability.

If he has a Lynx,he gets anti-ship capability but with very limited anti-submarine capability and less capability in all the other roles ship's helicopters perform.

If there is a wrong way to do procurement,you can almost guarantee the Ministry of Defence will find it.


Anti submarine ships are already all rounders with anti aircraft capability,they have to be as submarines fire missiles.

The destroyer simply has a more capable anti-aircraft system with anti-submarine capability reduced on cost grounds.

But designing,manufacturing and operating one class of ships and one anti-aircraft system  would more than offset those costs,the Americans build multirole ships,given our patrol tasks,we need them too.


Regarding guns,I set out some of my thoughts on this in the "optimum calibres" thread.

I believe a 5.5"/140mm rifled gun should be developed for use by the Royal Navy,Royal Artillery and Royal Armoured Corps and ideally other nations.

I won't repeat the arguments here but a higher ballistic coefficient and economically viable production numbers are important considerations.

For indirect fire the requirement is for unassisted projectiles to be efffective to at least the 20 mile sensor horizon of a large surface combatant.


What I think of as a landing ship is far removed from those small dock ships used at present,it is a large,simple,cheap vessel intended to transport,land and resupply a brigade sized force.

I based it around one ship moving a brigade of 4,000 men,400 heavy tracked vehicles and 1,600 Twenty foot Equivalent Units (T.E.U.) of light vehicles,supplies and equipment in a single lift with the neccessary lighterage to land the force.

I estimated that would be enough for 30 days combat operations by the brigade.

One large ship can carry all that to the Gulf in less than one week.

Having 30 days of combat supplies on hand gives the ship plenty of time to go home,reload and return from anywhere in the world before the brigade starts to run short of things.

A six ship fleet (with one in refit) can move a 20,000 strong heavy division in one lift at very low cost.

By way of comparison,during Operation Telic in 2003,the British army deployed 32,000 men to Kuwait with 15,000 vehicles,15,000 tonnes of ammunition and 6,800 containers in 10 weeks using 78 ships and 360 aircraft sorties.


Aircraft carriers originally had axial decks and it did not matter which side the island was on.

The Japanese built carriers with islands on both the port and starboard sides.

However,as the machinery was located in the depths of the ship amidships,the uptakes (and hence island) had to be amidships to minimise the weight and volume they take up.

Angled deck ships were originlly modifications of axial deck ships and the angle naturally was placed opposite the island.

Subsequent ships designed from the start with angled decks also had amidships machinery and uptakes and so had a similar layout.

Nuclear vessels could have had the island in a different position but were essentially nuclear evolutions of the conventional ships which preceeded them.

The Americans are moving the island aft for the latest Ford class but have kept it to starboard as the Fords use the area aft of the angle for the waist catapult.

A two catapult ship however,can use this space for the island but it is only practical if they also have electric propulsion which gives greater freedom in locating the turbine generators thus reducing the volume required for ducts.


If I was made First Sea Lord tomorrow,the first thing I would do would be to wish I had been given that job ten years earlier!

The biggest problems for the Royal Navy and other services are nothing to do with shipbuilding.


Structural problems have been created in defence procurement by recent industrial consolidation and European defence procurement initiatives.

The rational consequence of these changes is a dramatic reduction in British defence spending.

This is the biggest strategic problem facing the armed forces and sorting that out would be my first priority.


Secondly,there are a number of other problems in British defence procurement which have directly caused the reduction in force size which we have at present.


The most expensive thing in the defence budget is not a ship,an aircraft or a tank programme.

It is a lack of foresight.

For example,the lack of foresight which led to the Typhoon being developed as a land only aircraft caused us to contribute £2,000 Million towards the development of the F35.

A similar lack of foresight can be seen in most of our defence programmes.


Then there is the constant desire for "bespoke to role" weapons,sensors and platforms.

For example,we spent about £1,700 Million developing a large,British built,four engined aircraft with a payload of 60 tonnes of fuel and ordnance.

However,because this was a bespoke to role maritime patrol aircraft,not only was it produced in uneconomic quantities but we also had to contribute about £1,600 Million to the development of a large four engined aircraft which could carry 70 tonnes of fuel and cargo.

Again,we see the desire for bespoke to role everything across the board in defence procurement.


Last but by no means least there is financial mismanagement.

Typically we make "savings" which result in increased spending in future years.

This results in even greater savings being needed in future which again results in vastly increased spending in future years.

For example,in order to make short term savings on the new aircraft carriers,they were delayed,resulting in increased spending of £700 Million in the future.


Having mentioned only a handful of projects,we already have £4,300 Million wasted from the defence budget,enough to buy about 215 Merlin helicopters.


Getting back to ship building we already have the design and build capacity for the fleet I specified.

The great advantage of having fewer classes is that there is less design work to do and building can be done more quickly.

My programme would include one frigate a year,one large ship every two years and one submarine every two years over a thirty two year period.

That is little different to what we are producing at the moment.

The difference is in the schedulding.

We currently have an inconsistent build schedule.

Builders have to layoff engineers and technicians when they are short of work.

We then give them a whole raft of new vessels to design and build in a short timescale.

They then have to recruit new,inexperienced people who learn on the job making mistakes at tax payers expense.

As a consequence of this expense we can afford to order no more ships,the yards run out of work,people are laid off and the whole cycle begins again.

This is incredibly expensive way of doing things.

We cannot afford it.

We need a long term ship building plan with a constant flow of design and build work.

Which is why the prospect of outsourcing the new M.A.R.S. tankers is a really bad idea.

Replenishment ships,amphibious ships and aircraft carriers should all be in the same "big ship build cycle" to maintain capacity and reduce costs over the whole fleet.

I would probably scrap M.A.R.S. and come up with a coherent "big ship" plan.

I would also scrap C1 and C2 Future Surface Combatant and replace it with a single "F class" frigate programme (Falkland,Finisterre,Fame,Fortune,Fearless,Furious,Falcon,Fox,Frobisher,Fitzroy etc.).

I would talk to the people who came up with Venator about future sloops and brigs.

Venator was a lousy design compromised at every turn by it's limited displacement.

However,much of the thinking behind it was sound.

With a bigger hull,bigger boats,a full sized gun and more speed,range,endurance and accommodation,there is the potential for a big,cheap but very useful vessel for many minor tasks to replace the rather limited minor warships we have at present.


There are major issues with our missile procurement.

While Common Anti-Air Missile is a huge step in the right direction,it does not go far enough.

We need a true multipurpose missile (A.S.R.A.A.M. actually had a proposed air to surface variant called Typhoon).

Had we developed such a thing in the past we could have saved at least £2,000 Million in recent years.

If we develop such a thing now,there will be no need to spend money Future Air to Surface Guided Weapon and we will get a much enhanced capability for our ground troops and surface ships.

It is not the West which is behind in missile technology so much as the United Kingdom.

We are well behind other industrialised nations in anti-ballistic missile defence for example.

With the proliferation of ballistic and high speed cruise missiles,this is a major strategic weakness for a nation which currently relies on,large fixed land and air bases for expeditionary war fighting.

Tragically,having allowed our missile manufacturing base to fall into foreign hands,it is now difficult to justify spending money in this area on economic or security of supply grounds."

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