6 Type 45 Destroyers
10 Type 26 Combat Ship/Frigates
10 Type 27 Frigates (C2)
Plans are already moving along for the Type 26. However nothing has been mentioned about the type 27 C2 Medium Derivative Vessel. However if it gets built it is likley to be a large general purpose Frigate. Many have called for the vessel to be something very similar to the Absalon Class of the Danish Navy. As you may know I am not the biggest fan of this vessel for the Royal Navy. I would like to outline an alternative proposal of using corvettes to supplement the Navy to hopefully regain numbers. My proposal will use the theoretical budget designated for the ten C2 Vessels.
At present the C2 budget is speculative. Even if there is one. However it is likley to be around £200-£250 million per vessel. So we can assume that if there is to be a C2 the total budget for the program would be around £2.5 billion.
At present we require around 7 ships to have 6 on rotation. The idea being that the 7th ship is in deep refit. Of the 6 remaining vessels 2 can be deployed. The new assumption that the Navy is working on is that 6 will be needed for 6 ships to be on rotation as major refits are a thing of the past. Personally I don't believe this. However I will assume that 10 ships in the class can lead to 9 on rotation. That's 3 on deployment.
If we get 6 Type 45's and 6 Type 26 Escorts which is the bare minimum for carrier escort then none of these vessels will be avalable for standing deployments.
At present the Navy has standing deployments for
Fleet Ready Escort (UK)
NATO force North Atlantic/NATO Force Mediterranean (Alternate)
In addition the RN presently deploys 2 escorts to the Indian Ocean under anti piracy and anti terrorism roles.
Straight away we can see that even if our wildest expectations of C2 are met (which they won't be) the 3 ships avalable won't even meet our basic standing deployments let alone special mission in the Indian Ocean.
A Better Way
|Khareef Class OPV|
C2 is obviously to big and expensive for the RN given its present budget constraints. What we need is a smaller more capable vessel able to carry out the basic patrol and sea keeping duties required of the Royal Navy. We also need a vessel that can pack a punch and can be used to protect our over seas territories such as the Falklands. It's best to go of the shelf and choose a reliable design that we can build for a fixed price. It just so happens that BAE is presently building the Khareef Class OPV for Oman. Total Contract price for 3 vessels is £400 million including training and weapons.
|Type 21 Frigate|
While the Oman Navy is classifying the vessel as an OPV it's actually a light frigate at 2500 tonnes. In fact it's almost identical in size, weaponry's and performance to an update Type 21 Frigate. It has an immensely impressive specifications as seen below.
12 Cell VLS Launcher for MICA
Twin Quad Launchers for MM40 Exocet Block 3 SSM
76 mm Cannon
2 MSI DS 30M 30 mm Cannon
Space for deck mounted 21 inch torpedo launchers
Speed 30 knots
Range 4500 miles
Helicopter deck with hangar to accommodate Lynx sized helicopter
Assumptions on Price
At present these three vessels cost £130 million each. I am assuming that with a large program, no need for training and being able to swap out weapons from retiring type 22 and type 23 frigates as well as type 42 destroyers we could produce these vessels for £100 million each. I think that cost can include CAMS as a replacement for MICA.
For comparision I will assume that the C2 vessel has identical specifications to the Absalon Class. Below I will look at the type of Job's required on the Navy's future frigate. For every job under taken I will assume that their are two Khareefs style corvettes avalable for every Absalon style frigate.
EEZ Patrol (Intercepting smugglers)- Two Khareefs as opposed to one Absalon makes the Khareef the best choice hands down.
Embargo Enforcement- Again two to one wins the day for Khareef
Anti Piracy - Two kahareefs gives a bigger foot print however the larger number of small boast and the ability to launch and recover them easier gives the Absalon and advantage- Draw
ASW- The Absalon with Merlin would be superior to the Khareef. However 2 Khareef's would make for a much harder target. The Khareefs speed on 30 knts as opposed to Absalon at 24 gives Khareef the edge. Call this a draw.
Surface Action - Khareef is a smaller faster target and there are 2 for 1, Khareef wins
Special forces insertion- Khareef is faster with a smaller draft- Khareef wins
Disaster Relief - Absalon is larger and has flexi modules - Absalon wins
MCM - Not really a role for a frigate but Absalon wins having its flexi modules
Land based power projection - 76 mm gun is no use for shore bombardment- Absalon wins
Landing of troops - Absalon Wins no contest
Convoy Escort - 2 Khareefs takes it from the 1 Absalon
Global Presence - The Absalon has double the range and has better sea keeping in heavy seas. However 2 khareefs can offer a much bigger foot print. Tropical sea patrols would cause little in the way of problems for this 2500 tonne vessel- Draw
The Absalon is the much better choice for disaster relief, shore bombardment, amphibious landings and mine counter measures. However none of these tasks are core requirements of the C2 Vessel.
Cutting Out the C**P
One thing is clear from the SDSR. The Navy can't continue to cover the full range of tasks that it does today. Something has to give. At present the government seems to favour cutting the ability of the Navy to fight wars in favour of maintaining it's ability to respond to disaster's in third world countries. I personally believe that we devote enough time and resources to third world countries else where. For instance we already spend more on international aid than we do on the Navy. If we are going to cut back on something in the Navy it should not be it's ability to fight but rather it's humanitarian abilities.
Also we have aircraft carriers, LPD's ,LPH's, LSD's and a whole host of other auxiliary vessels far more suited to this role than any Frigate including the Absalon. These vessels are also far more suited for embarkation of amphibious forces.
Power projection and shore bombardment will be far more effectively carried out by Type 26 Combat Ships with cruise missiles and 155mm Gun's.
MCM is a job for the C3 minor war vessel not a general purpose frigate.
Having twice as many Khareefs gives us the ability to maintain our current standing deployments. The main draw back of the Khareef is it's lack of range. However by forward deploying units we could easily over come this problem.
It's clear that with modern escorts costing up to £ 1 billion each we can't maintain the current position of 7 vessels required to deploy 2. We should also remember that in the past many of these single frigate standing deployments were actually carried out by an entire squadron a even a fleet. We desperately need to increase our persistence in and around key sea lanes, over sea's territories and resource rich area's. In the past we forward deployed vessels in an area for several years before returning them to the UK for re fit's. A return to this type of system would allow a vessel like the Khareef to give us a truly global presence on the shoe string budget we have today. It just so happens that we are the only country in the world able to do this using our own over seas territories.
A fleet of 20 Khareefs would allow for us to have 18 on rotation. This would give us 6 squadrons of three boast per squadron. These squadrons could be forward deployed to bases to replace all of the current Navy's standing deployments. It would allow the Navy to dramatically increase it's global presence and leave the larger T45's and T26's to escort the CSG's or ARG's. Having a squadron of 3 of these vessel in an area would be far superior to the single frigate we can muster today.
A South Atlantic Squadron - Port Stanley Falkland Islands
B North Atlantic Squadron - Bermuda
C North Sea Squadron - Portsmouth
D Mediterranean Squadron - Cyprus
E Indian Ocean Squadron (West) - Diego Garcia
F Indian Ocean Squadron (East) - Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia, Cyprus, Portsmouth and Port Stanley already having existing naval facilities, Bermuda would require some facilities to be created however berthing for 3 corvettes would require little more than the fencing off of an area in the existing port. Crews could be rotated back to the UK by aircraft in the way that crews are currently sent to the Falklands for HMS Clyde.
Thinking Out of the Box
With a smaller budget the Navy needs to start thinking out of the box. Having all of its vessels in the UK thousand's of miles from their area of operation is no longer affordable. However with a bit of imagination alternative solution like forward deploying corvettes can allow us to at least maintain our current ability.
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