The world today is a pretty grim place. Economic woes as well as the legacy of two of the most vicious and hard fought wars we have fought in 50 years have left all branches of the military greatly reduced in both capability and numbers. However things will not always be as bad. A government coming into power in 2015 my inherit a very different set of circumstances.
In the spirit fantasy fleet I would like to ask what you might do in 2015 if you were a new British Government. With the Army out of Afghanistan and Iraq, A balanced budget and no major commitments what would you do with the military.
There would be a number of big advantages to the new government coming in.
The £38 billion hole in the procurement budget would be gone. There would be little in the way of new programs still to come as most things would have been either canceled or completed by then.
The Army the most expensive armed force would have been cut back to around 80,000. Much of its heavy weaponry and forces deployed in Germany would have returned. Its likely that many of the cap badge arguments would also have been settled. The Army would need a decade or more to lick its wounds and fully recover from the fights its currently involved in.
The RAF would have been cut down to a single air frame in the Euro fighter Typhoon. Some for of strike aircraft would be necessary which at present is likely to be the F35 JCA. However it may be that by 2015 the BAE Taranis UCAV is bearing fruit and ready to be manufactured into an actual production aircraft.
The navy all though greatly reduced in number would have some of the most capable high end vessels in the world. Two new super aircraft carriers being completed with CATS and TRAPS. One of the most advanced AAW destroyers in the world in the T45. Possibly the number one SSN in the form of Astute and the new T26 Global Combat Ship design being completed. Possibilities like this would have been Tony Blair's wettest dream when he came into government in 1997. It would not be too difficult to order additional units for SSN's, Destroyers and even aircraft carriers from BAE at fixed prices. BAE should be willing to do this now that all the design work has been done and the designs are de-risked.
What would I do.
In a post Afghanistan world with a rapidly rising China I would likely follow a maritime focus. We could assume that a budget of 2.5% of GDP is affordable and in the countries long term interests. This would give an extra £10 billion a year to spend.
The first thing I would buy would be 6 additional T45 destroyers. BAE offered Daring 7 for a fixed price of £650 million in 2009 prices. Assuming £700 million in 2015 prices we could get all 6 for £4.2 billion fixed price. We could likey make the batch two ship's slightly larger and give them the equipment fit they should have had. A few pundits have said its not possible to restart T45 production. However the T42 went through three separate batches of production even after lengthy shut downs. The Areligh Burkes in the US have been getting built for so long that new Burkes will begin to replace the original ones built. We still have the plans the ship yards, the equipment and the people who made them. A gap of 5 - 7 years should make little difference in the ability to fabricate them again.
The next thing I would do is to obviously make sure both Queen Elizabeth Class carriers were completed and activated. I would also add a third vessel to the fleet HMS Duke of York. The additional unit cost of a CVF is actually just around £1.5 billion. Again we should be able to get this on a fixed price basis.
I would up the buy for the T26-T27 frigate buying 10 of each with the T26 being the ASW variant and the T27 being the more general purpose escort version of the same hull. If we can keep costs to £300 million each then we will be looking at a total program of £6 billion. Around half of this is already accounted for in current procurments budgets.
In addition to replacing the frigates we will need to replace the Amphibs. HMS Ocean by 2018 and Albion and Bulwark by the mid 2020's.
I would opt for Three Juan Carlos Style LHD's. Fortunatley BAE is now building such vessels in Australia the Canberra Class. Again with big orders we should be able to get these on fixed price deals. The Spanish paid EUR 350 million for the Juan and Australia is paying AUD 3 billion for two Canberra's. We should be able to get these three for £2 billion total.
The Bays will also be nearing a need to be replaced. With the three LHD's we could get away with three LSD's Total cost £800 million.
The Astute program will be well advanced with number 7 being built. however there would still likely be a gap between Astute 7 and the first Trident replacement. Ordering two additional Astutes would allow us to close this gap. The total cost for Astute 8 and 9 would likely only be £ 1.8 billion and again we should be able to get that price fixed. Astute 8 and 9 along with 3 refitted Trafalgar's would allow us to return back to a 12 boat SSN fleet.
On the aircraft side. With the introduction of a Cat and Trap carrier we can begin to purchase US Navy aircraft. Chief Amongst these would be a purchase of E2D Hawk eyes. We could look to replace the current fleet of 7 RAF E3's and RN 13 Asac 7 Sea Kings with a single fleet of 12 E2D's. This would likely cost $235 million each to purchase so £1.7 billion. Running Cost would be within the existing budget as its much cheaper to run 12 E2's than 7 E3's plus 13 Asac 7 Sea Kings.
At present the UK is committed to a purchase of some 40 F35 C aircraft. We will likely have to eventually purchase 100+ aircraft to maintain our status in the JSF project. Purchasing all F35 C aircraft would allow us to equip a Queen Elizabeth Class with an air wing of some 24 Aircraft in two squadrons. This would give an air wing consisting of 4 E2D's 4 Merlin's and 24 F35 C's. In addition we may look to supplement the reduced buy of F35's with a long range UCAV. This could either be a purchase of USN X47B or a Naval version of the Taranus from BAE. 12 UCAV's would bring the air wing back up to the intended 36 strike aircraft. It would also give a Queen Elizabeth Class around 60-80% of the combat hitting power of a US Navy Carrier.
In terms of air force there are a number of wrongs I would probably look to right from the SDSR 2010. First I would retain the R1 Sentinel Aircraft due to be scrapped in 2015. These aircraft are very new, highly capable and already in service. Scrapping them saves almost nothing.
A replacement program would be needed for the Nimrod project that was cancelled. Going of the shelf for a purchase of some 12 airframes would seem the most sensible way to progress. A purchase of the USN P8 Poseidon would likely offer the best capability. This program is currently having many issues much the same as the Nimrod MRA4 had. However by 2015 we are likely to have a handle of the cost of this aircraft. It may be possible to buy surplus from the USN order of 117 following budget cutbacks. On current estimates we would be looking at a unit cost of £100 million per plane so £1.2 billion total.
The RAF by 2015 will have had its strike aircraft force gutted. With The last Tornado's due to be scrapped in 2018 all of the F35's flying from carriers the force will be left only with some 160 Typhoons. Adapting the BAE Taranus UCAV demonstrator into a production aircraft could give the RAF a first class 6th Generation strike aircraft at a relatively low cost.
BAE has managed to get the program off the ground for around £150 million so far. It is said that the prototype is actually capable of carrying and performing bombing missions. It should be possible to get a usable combat aircraft from this program. Especially if we go sub sonic and opt for numbers over quality.
The Army scaled back to 80,000 men in 5 deploy able medium brigades is probably a relatively sensible force size.
However the Army will have a massive surplus of heavy equipment left over from its armoured divisions returning from Germany. I would like to see UK 1 Armoured Division converted over to a National Guard style force. Maintain the ability of the UK to deploy this type of Force in a once a generation style Gulf War deployment. A force like this of some 25,000 men would likely cost £300-400 million per year about the cost of the present TA. Transferring armoured war fare to the reservists has a number of benefits besides costs. Fighting a large scale battle along the lines of Desert Storm is likely to put us against an enemy of conscript soldiers. So our own volunteer reservists should be well up to the task. It removes the necessity to deploy reservists to bitter policing actions like Afghanistan that the regulars would now be able to concentrate on. Tankers do not need to be as physically fit as say infantry. This means that when activated we can get the division deployed relatively quickly with little need for a physical work up. Not to mention that these type of clean warfare deployments tend to be relatively popular with everyone eager to kick the door in and get home in time for tea and medals.