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How to Supercharge the Royal Navy

by John Brian Shannon

It can’t be emphasized enough that the United Kingdom is an island nation and that without a respectable sea power component, the country would have missed becoming one of the greatest powers in history. All that success was accumulated courtesy of the unprecedented level of trade from 1546-onward with virtually every nation on the planet. (1546 was the year the Royal Navy was created)

Not that the UK should become a militaristic country, far from it. But because it relies on free trade for its survival (and that means keeping the sea lanes open, no matter what) Britain must always stand ready to defend its territory and its legitimate economic interests abroad. If the UK ceases to do that; that will be the day it’s no longer a sovereign country. That’s what’s at stake for the United Kingdom.

Other countries may have the luxury of being located on continents with many other countries to buy from and sell to, and could, if required, source everything they need from that continent and sell all of their exports within that same continent. But for the UK, that option doesn’t exist.

Therefore, the UK must have the best-trained, best-equipped, and best-led navy in the world. There is simply no alternative.


Two More Aircraft Carriers, Please!

By 2020, both of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carriers (HMS Queen Elizabeth ‘R08’ and HMS Prince of Wales ‘R09’) will have joined the fleet and the navy’s only other aircraft carrier HMS Ocean ‘L12′ will have been retired; leaving the UK, a country completely dependent upon seaborne trade, with only two aircraft carriers. (Which makes for a nice peacetime aircraft carrier fleet — but if war strikes, it would be 4-years before even one aircraft carrier could be produced!)

It should be noted that pink slips will be handed to almost everyone who worked on the two carriers by July 2018 now that construction on both R08 and R09 is nearly complete, with only sea trials left to perform before both ships enter full-time service. Thousands of engineers, electricians and labourers will no longer be required.

What really needs to happen is that two more Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers need to be built, and high on the list of reasons to build them must be to keep a continuous production line operating until more destroyers or frigates are required (and don’t kid yourself, they’re required now, just that the government isn’t yet convinced of the need) and the proposed ships could fulfill different roles than R08 and R09.

R10 could be fitted-out as a helicopter carrier / humanitarian aid / hospital ship — with 15 fighter jets for self-protection because R10 itself could be attacked and must be able to instantly defend itself.

R11 could be sold to India which would buy one very quickly(!) as its navy has the formidable task of policing an Indian Ocean that’s only slightly smaller than the Atlantic.

The selling price (to India) of such a carrier would pay for the construction of the proposed R10 for the Royal Navy (not including the aircraft) and require millions of person-hours to construct both R10 and R11. Seems a no-brainer, doesn’t it?

From a jobs and economy perspective, the UK needs to build two more aircraft carriers — only one of which it needs for itself — while the other is sold to India.

That’s how to afford a world-class navy in the 21st-century!


Keep it Going!

Next on the agenda must be new Type 45 destroyers that are fitted-out for UAV duty in addition to the other duties the Type 45’s perform.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles need to become a major part of RN destroyer operations as the future of naval warfare will be tilted toward UAV’s for surveillance, for Combat Air Patrol duty (to protect the naval task force at sea) and to drop munitions on targets that are very heavily defended — too heavily defended to risk losing a multi-million pound sterling aircraft and its pilot.

Not only can UAV’s do that, the UK’s new UAV’s in development for the Royal Navy should have a refuelling version with the ability to fly up to 500 miles to refuel fighter jetsinstead of those jets having to return to the aircraft carrier to refuel, or having to fly large fuel tankers near the combat zone — which is dangerous as they’re manned by live pilots and carry tens of thousands of gallons of fuel.

Also, by having UAV refuelling units accompany fighter-bomber jets, it can extend the range of the bombers (bombers use astronomical amounts of fuel when they’re carrying thousands of pounds of bombs) and UAV’s can be programmed to refuel any type of jet (en-route or returning) at a predetermined location allowing them to make it all the way to the target and all the way back to the aircraft carrier which may have moved hundreds of miles in the meantime to avoid enemy submarines.

Aircraft carriers can’t always remain in one place waiting for their jets to return and other factors can come into play in a conflict situation such as ‘Country B’ suddenly withdrawing permission to use their territorial waters to launch and recover UK aircraft. That’s just how war goes.

Keeping warbirds of all types in the air longer and with plenty of in-flight refuelling availability close by removes the need for them to fly all the way back to the aircraft carrier for fuel, resulting in a huge increase in the efficiency of man and machinery. Unprecedented efficiencies await!


Ten More Type 45’s with the UAV upgrade, Please!

The UK needs four more Type 45’s and all existing destroyers must be upgraded to the UAV standard — and other Commonwealth nations need Type 45’s too.

Australia, Canada, and India could put those extremely capable destroyers to good use and retire their obsolete and expensive-to-maintain destroyers.

By building more destroyers than it needs, six Type 45 destroyers could be sold to Commonwealth nations which would allow the Royal Navy to afford four more destroyers at no cost to the RN, while providing millions of person-hours of work for Britain’s workers.

When the UK shipbuilding and submarine building industry measurably adds to UK GDP, you know you’re doing it right!


Summary

There is a difference between ‘just getting by’ and ‘succeeding’.

‘Just getting by’ means continuing to do things the way it’s been done in the postwar era, while ‘succeeding’ means building a modern Royal Navy and substantially adding to the capabilities of Commonwealth of Nations member countries by using a sustainable economic model that keeps thousands of workers in the UK shipbuilding industry permanently employed.

What could be more important for new-ish UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson than protecting the UK (#1 priority) strengthening the Royal Navy (#2 priority) and recreating a thriving shipbuilding industry model (#3 priority) that measurably adds to Britain’s GDP and helps Commonwealth partners to succeed?

UK Warships Set For Early Retirement Could Serve Other Commonwealth Navies

by John Brian Shannon

UK Ministry of Defence bosses have announced their intention to retire seven ships and reduce the Royal Marines by 1000 personnel in a cost-saving effort necessitated by the acquisition of two world-class aircraft carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales.

It’s brilliant that the Royal Navy is stepping boldly into the 21st-century with two state-of-the-art aircraft carriers, yet many sailors will miss the still great but aging ships, which have a decade or two of service life left in them.

In fact, two of the soon-to-be retired vessels, the HMS Albion and the HMS Bulwark aren’t even halfway through their expected life-cycle but are excellent ships that could be sold to any Commonwealth nation.

UK Royal Navy ship HMS Albion was launched by Princess Anne on March 9, 2001

UK Royal Navy ship HMS Albion was launched by Princess Anne on March 9, 2001. Image credit: Richard English

As an island nation and as the world’s oldest sea power, Britain should always command a first-rate navy, and good policy would dictate the sale of RN ships halfway through their normal life-cycle to help defer the costs of maintaining that world-class navy.

The helicopter carrier HMS Ocean was also marked out for retirement in an earlier press release along with four smaller Royal Navy ships, but they too could serve out the rest of their expected life in any Commonwealth nation.


Commonwealth Partner Canada – Needs Those Ships!

The Royal Canadian Navy depends heavily on its 12 naval frigate fleet and is desperately lacking in rescue capability (helicopter carrier) and littoral combat (close-to-shore) vessels — which gaps could be filled by the soon-to-be-retired HMS Ocean, HMS Albion, and HMS Bulwark, while saving the Canadian navy billions of dollars — and more importantly, the several years required for Canada to build new ships.

Although Canada has a great navy with proud tradition there are major credibility gaps in Canada’s fleet and purchasing these Royal Navy ships could partially alleviate that gap, thereby propelling the RCN forward by at least five years and at very reasonable cost compared to building new ships.

Canada should constantly drop hints to the Royal Navy to allow them be first to bid on ships and helicopters set for early retirement.


Commonwealth Partner India – Needs Those Ships!

The Indian Navy has a vast area to patrol in one of the busiest shipping regions of the world and it can’t get enough ships. Ever!

Modern naval vessels are very expensive to build, but expensive new ships don’t always suit the needs of the Indian Navy — a navy that requires huge numbers of vessels to patrol all those millions of square miles. Not all of them need to be world-class combat ships.

With thousands of cargo ships and cruise ships travelling through the region every day, and with piracy at an all-time high in the Indian Ocean having enough ships available to maintain a presence is far more important than how shiny the paint is on inspection day.

The level of shipping activity in the Indian Ocean region can only be described as frenetic and piracy is a common problem in the adjacent Arabian Sea and off the east coast of Africa where many Indian registered ships carry trillions of dollars of raw materials and manufactured goods every year.


Commonwealth Partner Australia

Australia fields a modern navy and (thankfully) it enjoys the strong support of the Australian government.

The country purchases build-to-suit ships and submarines from various countries and it occasionally sells its used ships to New Zealand — a good arrangement for both countries.

However, some early retirement Royal Navy ships could be valuable to the Royal Australian Navy in the future. Their navy is heavy with helicopter frigates and minesweepers and has a respectable number of submarines — yet there may be occasion when Britain’s navy could decide to part with ships that meet the needs of the Australian fleet.

The only thing lacking in the RAN fleet are destroyers. They could make-do with 6 as we are presently in peacetime; At the moment, the Royal Australian Navy has 1 destroyer.


Other Commonwealth Partner Navies

Many Commonwealth nations are maritime countries with various naval capabilities, yet purchasing new ships is an expensive proposition for rapidly developing nations.

For them, it’s difficult to justify a billion dollar warship when they need crucial infrastructure (yesterday!) to serve the needs of their citizens. Yet, having an effective naval presence to deter piracy and to protect national sovereignty becomes increasingly important as their GDP rises.

One way for them to accomplish two goals at once is to purchase used RN vessels that match their needs. Indeed, for the cost of one new frigate a small nation may be able to purchase five used, but still effective, former Royal Navy frigates or smaller coastal defence craft to provide security in nearby shipping lanes.


Summary

Until now it has been normal for navies to max-out the life of their ships and to pay massive sums to refit their navy ships at mid-point in their life-cycle (some refits cost more than the original ship!) and that’s an expensive way to outfit a navy when there is a better alternative.

In the 21st-century there are so many rapidly developing Commonwealth nations, UK shipyards could have a continuous frigate assembly line, a continuous destroyer assembly line and a continuous coastal patrol craft assembly line to keep up with total demand from a world-class Royal Navy that retires its ships early and sells them to allied nations.

But that’s only if the Royal Navy makes the historic decision to sell its ships at the 12-year mark, while they still have at least 18-years of life left in them.

It would be wise to continue to operate them as usual — but simply make it known to Commonwealth partners that any Royal Navy vessel over 6-years of age is automatically available for purchase to Commonwealth members.

As the Commonwealth’s rapidly developing nations continue to increase their wealth, they’ll have evermore reason to protect what’s theirs and to surveil and protect foreign ships travelling through their waters.

Instead of keeping ships for decades and running them into the ground along with one or two costly refits over the years, in the 21st-century the better way is to sell them to Commonwealth nations at the 6-12 year mark while the vessels still have plenty of useful service life remaining. And in that way, create a healthy UK shipbuilding industry geared towards Royal Navy needs, but also to the needs of Britain’s allies.

That’s how you build a better Royal Navy and help your Commonwealth partners at the same time!


Related Articles:

  • Two Barrow-built warships to be scrapped under government plans (The Mail)
  • Incredible moment Britain’s new £3bn Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier sailed alongside America’s fiercest warships in North Sea (The Sun)