Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Responding To Piracy - OPV's to supplement the Royal Navy

Piracy is an increasing threat in today's marine environment. Somalia is only the latest in a string of piracy threats that have covered the globe from the Philippines and the Malacca straits to the East Coast of Africa. World Navy's have proven completely unable to respond to this threat. The use of $2 billion dollar destroyers chasing down  Somali pirates armed with AK47's is not only embarrassing but a complete waste of Naval resources. Its not like these expensive warships are not needed else where.

With the looming SDSR the Royal Navy is likley to loose the bulk of its Frigate Escorts. Its Destroyer escorts have already been cut to the bone with only 6 being built. The Navy will be unable to maintain its standing patrols let alone spare ships for additional NATO or EUFOR missions in the Indian Ocean. With a rapidly shrinking escort fleet the Navy must look at cheaper alternatives than ASW frigates of AAW destroyers to meet many of its commitments.


HMS Clyde
The Navy employs OPV's of the River Class for EEZ patrol in and around the UK as well as the Falklands. OPV's are very cheap to build costing around £50 million and are capable of carrying out most day to day sea control tasks. Traditionally the Navy has deployed its ASW frigates to places like the Caribbean to run down drug traffickers simply because it had allot of these vessels and it was not using them for anything else. However in a post SDSR world this will not be the case. It is now vital that the Navy looks at alternatives to supplement the escort fleet.

Home Porting

One of the main concerns the Navy has about OPV's is their inability to transit at great speed and in heavy sea states. However for the past few years HMS Clyde has been home ported in the Falkland Islands. The vessels crew are flown to a from the vessel on rotations. The vessel will stay in the Falkland Islands for 5 years before returning to the UK for refit.

If we were to home port an OPV in the Caribbean in either BVI or Grand Cayman then we could cut back on one royal navy standing deployment. Remember for every escort we save on standing deployment we actually save 3-4 escorts in the water. We could continue to supplement the OPV with an RFA ship during Hurricane season for Disaster relief. In addition basing 2-3 OPV's in Oman would allow us to pull back the two escorts that we presently have to have in the Indian Ocean. While an OPV is not an ideal replacement for a Frigate or Destroyer at least it is something. Its likely to be far better than the post SDSR alternative of nothing.

Anti Piracy Squadron

Pirate threats tend to come and go. A few years ago the Malacca straits were the big issue. Now it's Somalia. If the Royal Navy had an Anti Piracy squadron of 4 OPV's they could be moved to where ever in the world that they were needed. This is likely to be far more effective than sending a single frigate or RFA vessel. As the countries in the region are often the biggest losers from Piracy we can probably expect to get them to provide shore facilities for free.

Getting Started

Port of Spain (River Class OPV)

It just so happens that we have 3 river class OPV's completed and sitting in yards inside the UK. These were ordered by Trinidad and Tobago. They are now looking for a new customer. We could probably pick these up for very cheap. Or we could get BAE to provide them on a PFI basis they way that VT has for HMS Clyde.

Paying for it

While the Royal Navy budget covers standing deployments it does not cover extra deployments to tackle piracy. We could pay for the Anti Piracy Squadron with a levy on shipping in the affected area. Possibly charging ships to enter Convoys. The money the shipping companies would save in lost cargo and lower insurance premiums would likely easily cover the operating costs of 4 OPV's on a PFI contract.

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