Saturday, October 9, 2010

Queen Elizabeth Class, It's worth all the pain

As per usual we have journalists and even former navy admirals screaming that the Navy is going to become smaller than the navy of some small European country. In the past it was Belgium's navy that was hailed as the great rival to the RN. This time its Portugal. The argument as ever goes that in order to pay for the carriers we are getting rid of all the frigates. We won't be able to carry out all our standing deployments and the nation that relies on the sea for 95% of it's trade is screwed.



While I advocate a balanced force of Carriers and lots of ASW escorts it's not going to happen. Unfortunately it's an either or decision. In my opinion having two QE's each with two T45's and two T26 escorts its worth scrapping the entire T23, T22 escort fleet.

What Does a Frigate Do Anyway?

It's a good question. A frigate such as the Type 23 is an out and out submarine hunter. It's probably the worlds best surface platform for doing this. However we have not fought an ASW battle since 1943. Can we really base so much of the Navy on fighting a type of battle we have not fought in 70 years.

We need to police shipping lanes and frigates are the best platforms to do this.

We do need a global presents to protect our sea lanes from pirates and terrorists. However new frigates are coming in a costs of £400-£500 million each. Destroyers are over £1 billion a piece. These vessel in the anti piracy role provide no more capability than an OPV with a helicopter. The OPV can do the job for 10% of the cost.

Having vessels deployed in an area of interest can prevent conflict and sends a message to our enemies to deter aggression

A valid argument however a T23 has basically no land attack or power projection capability. Neither will its likley successor the T27. Look at the two pictures below. If you were a dictator bent on doing harm to the west which picture coming over the horizon would deter you more.


This one

or this one
Sending an ASW frigate to an area to deter aggression especially were that aggression is land based does not send a message or strength but a message of weakness.

Frigates are Needed for State on State Warfare

A frigate has never fired a Surface to Surface missile in anger. The reason for this is that in a major shooting war in the open ocean SSN's will rule supreme. If the SSN's don't get you then the aircraft flying from the carrier will hundreds of miles before you can hope to get in range with your frigate mounted anti ship missiles or main guns.

A Queen Elizabeth Class with her 4 surface escorts and her aircraft costs around £10 billion. A modern T23 like the T27 will be costs around £200 million. Pit a £10 billion fleet of 50 of these T27's against a £10 billion carrier battle group in an all out shooting war and who do you think will win. I would doubt if the T27's on their own would score a hit against the Carrier Battle Group.

Frigates are useful for ASW work however the two T26's in the carrier battle group are there for that exact reason. a CBG can hunt Submarines just as well as a frigate. It can also launch a strike to knock our the submarines in their home port before they can put to sea. Something a frigate cannot do.

We need Frigates to support our allies

Between NATO, the EU the Common Wealth and RIMPAC we have around 80 countries that we might consider allies. Of these allies nearly every one has offshore patrol boats. Most have ASW frigate's and destroyers (well over 400 between them). Only two have aircraft carriers. Those two between them have 11 aircraft carriers likley to soon be 10 or even 8. What makes a bigger contribution from the UK. A CBG or 5 or 6 ASW frigates?

We need escorts if we are to carry out a Falklands style attack

Yes we do. Carriers need escorts, there is no doubt of that. However escorts need carriers far more. The fleet we sent to the Falklands had 80 ASW and General purpose frigates as well as AAW destroyers. It had only 2 small carriers. That fleet was hit very hard by a second rate third world power. A more determined and capable enemy might have sunk it all. A single fleet carrier with a proper AWACS picture would likely have meant us not suffering a single loss. Indeed the battle would probably never have happened.

We need Frigates for Distaer Relief

Any one supporting this argument should stop reading this blog right now. A Type 23 may be the worst platfom in the world for disaster relief. It's small crowded decks are packed with weaponary and have no space for supplies or people. It's Merlin helicopter is packed with sensitive, expensive tope secret equiptment not the type of thing you want rescuing refuggess or delivering water. Any RFA vessel, LPH, LPD or Aircrat carrier would provide 10 times the utility of a T23 in distaer relief. Even the River class OPV's would be better.



Summation

I truly want the Navy to have a fully balanced and capable fleet. At the moment and for the past 40 years that is no what we have had. We have a middle heavy fleet full of platforms that while excellent in the ASW role are too expensive for basic sea control and too lightly armed for power projection. A fleet that is over balanced at the top with aircraft carriers and over balanced at the bottom with OPV's and Corvettes will be far more capable for the same price.

Saying the Royal Navy is smaller than the Navy of Portugal is like saying the US Navy is smaller than the Navy of North Korea. It has far less hulls but at the end of the day number of hulls means little in an all out fight.




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