Maritime capability and equipment has always been a significant area within defence procurement. Here, MOD DCB features writer Paul Elliott gives an overview of what the UK’s maritime capability will look like in the future, following the publication of the Strategic Defence and Security Review.
The most recent Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), published last November, makes for interesting reading, particularly in the maritime domain. Investments are being made to enhance UK naval strength, as part of Joint Force 2025. But what will the UK’s maritime capability of the future look like?
One of the highest-profile programmes currently under way is the work to develop two new Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, the largest warships ever built for the Royal Navy. These will enter service from 2018 and form the core of the Maritime Task Group, with one carrier available at all times.
The Royal Navy will maintain one of the most capable anti-submarine fleets in the world with the introduction of eight advanced Type 26 Global Combat Ships, which will start to replace the current Type 23 frigates in their anti-submarine role. Further to that, the Navy will maintain its fleet of 19 frigates and destroyers. There will also be the launch of a concept study ahead of the design and build of a new class of lighter, flexible general purpose frigates so that by the 2030s the UK will further increase its total number of frigates and destroyers. It is intended that these general purpose frigates offer increased export potential.
Furthermore, two new River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) are to be procured to deliver a more modern and capable fleet of up to six vessels. These ships will be used to support the destroyers and frigates in delivering routine tasks and to enhance the UK’s contribution to maritime security and fisheries protection.
Since 1969, the Royal Navy has delivered the UK’s nuclear deterrent under Operation Relentless, with at least one of four nuclear-armed submarines on patrol at all times. The Vanguard Class of nuclear-armed boats will begin to leave service by the early 2030s. The headline grabber in the SDSR is that it has been decided that the UK is to make the necessary investment to sustain a Continuous At-Sea Deterrence. The Government says that four boats are needed, in order to give assurance that at least one will always be at sea, undetected, on a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent patrol.
Submarines on patrol will continue to carry 40 nuclear warheads and eight operational missiles. The UK will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads, and by the mid-2020s will reduce the overall nuclear weapons stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, meeting the commitments set out in SDSR 2010.
The Vanguard Class of nuclear-armed submarines will be replaced with a new class of four submarines, currently known as Successor. It is one of the largest government investment programmes undertaken in recent times, equivalent in scale to Crossrail or High Speed 2.
The design phase started in 2011, and since then the Ministry of Defence has worked with its main industrial partners – BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock – to deliver the submarine programme. The Government’s ambition is to create a world-class, enduring submarine enterprise, and this will require sustained long-term effort from the MOD, Government and industry. The project is massive – it will be a 20-year acquisition programme and the latest estimate is that manufacturing the four Successor submarines is likely to cost a total of £31 billion (including inflation over the lifetime of the programme), with the first boat entering service in the early 2030s. There is a contingency of £10 billion.
The SDSR states that a new national shipbuilding strategy will be published in 2016, which will lay the foundations for a modern and efficient sector capable of meeting the country’s future defence and security needs. It also says the acquisition of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship will be crucial to the future of the UK’s warship-building industry and form a central part of the strategy. It is intended that the manufacturing phase for the first ships will start once the design has further matured. Businesses should also take note that the MOD says it will compete elements of the manufacturing work so that the programme delivers on time and to cost.
In 2011 the UK National Maritime Information Centre (NMIC) was established to coordinate information about maritime security, both nationally and with international partners. The MOD says it will enhance joint working between law enforcement agencies and the Royal Navy to increase patrolling in the UK’s territorial waters. It will also improve aerial surveillance operations and information-sharing across government.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon MP recently said that the UK will increase its maritime commitment to NATO exercises and activities in 2016. The announcement was made at the NATO Defence Ministerial in Brussels. In light of the SDSR, the UK will continue to commit significant funds to the NATO Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) network, as well as supporting research and development initiatives and multinational engagement through the UK’s Missile Defence Centre (MDC). Investment will be made in a ground-based BMD radar, which will enhance the coverage and effectiveness of the NATO BMD system. Further investigations will also be made into the potential of the Type 45 destroyers to operate in a BMD role.
Going forward, the MOD will continue to upgrade its maritime helicopters by enhancing the Merlin Anti-Submarine Warfare platform, equipping some of the aircraft for airborne early warning and control missions under the Crowsnest Programme. The new fleet of Wildcat maritime attack and utility helicopters will also be brought into service; and Merlin Mk4 Commando helicopters are to be introduced, adapted to operate from ships.
Investment is also to be made in Logistic Support. In order to sustain the Maritime Task Group’s ability to project power across the globe for extended periods, there will be the procurement of three new Fleet Solid Support logistics ships, to enter service from the mid-2020s. From 2016, four new Tide Class tankers will also be brought into service to supplement the two existing Wave Class vessels. The UK will continue to employ the civilian-manned Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA), which delivers worldwide logistical and operational support for the wide range of tasks the Royal Navy undertakes including warfighting, counter-piracy, humanitarian and disaster relief, and counter-narcotics operations.
There will be a reduction, meanwhile, in the number of Mine-Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs). By 2025, three of the oldest Sandown Class ships will be decommissioned, leaving 12 MCMVs in the fleet. The UK is also working with France to develop a Maritime Mine Counter Measure Demonstrator.
What is clear following the Strategic Defence and Security Review is that the maritime domain is an area which will see considerable investment continue to be made in the years to come. Whether through new programmes, modernisation efforts or the Government’s wider pro-business strategy, many fresh opportunities for the defence supply chain in maritime are set to appear on the horizon.
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