Some good news from the Type 45s front. All ships appear to have received their Phalanx fit, even HMS Duncan, the last vessel to enter service, which sported them in her recent visit to Oslo for the 200 years of the norwegian navy.
As we have known from MOD words since last year, Harpoon missile fit is also on the way for four of the six ships. It is not exactly clear when the missiles will take their place on board, but the Royal Navy's website itself is confirming that HMS Duncan is going to be the first in class getting the system. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Daring, Dragon and Diamond will be the other three. It remains unclear if the other two ships in the class are going to be cut out entirely, or if they will be fitted with the launchers infrastructure, wiring and software, allowing the missile fit itself to be moved from vessel to vessel to ensure the deployed ships have the capability.
The MOD said that additional equipment would be purchased to enable the integration of Harpoon on Type 45 (in addition to the kit that is recovered from the four decommissioned Type 22 Batch 3 frigates) but it is not clear if it is needed for the four ships, or to prepare the other two.
If all vessels get the infrastructure and system integration, swapping the missile fit from one to another is not going to be an issue; but unfortunately i'm inclined to read it as having two vessels which will flat-out not get the capability.
It is also not clear when the missile fit will appear. HMS Duncan was seen in port last march with a white tent covering what was almost certainly work related to getting the Harpoon infrastructure in; but on her subsequent sorties to sea, she still does not sport the missiles.
|Seen in Oslo in May 2014, HMS Duncan has gained Phalanx, but is still missing Harpoon, in a Royal Navy photo|
HMS Defender has made progress towards full capability by receiving her own Phalanx fit and by firing Sea Viper for the first time on May 15.
Those who follow me on Twitter already know that i've been doing my best to track the Anti-Ballistic Missile tests undergone by HMS Daring in her long deployment in the Pacific. A while ago i had concluded, thanks to documents of the US Missile Defense Agency, that she had been part of
Flight Test Operational-01 (FTO-01), a US BMD System operational test executed at the Reagan Test Site/Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
Since then, an interesting Jane's article has confirmed that i was right in my reconstruction of the events. The results of HMS Daring's work with the modified SAMPSON radar have been good enough that the MOD has provided additional funding to continue with the ABM development program. This is a welcome development, even though so far there continues to be no plan for the eventual roll out of ABM capability to the Type 45 fleet, nor any plan to provide the ships with anti-ballistic missiles.
The new phase of development should culminate in another ABM test in 2015. The target is to better integrate the ABM radar functionality into the ship's combat system, and add better interoperability with US ABM assets by introducing the necessary data link format.
The 2013 test used an ABM software functionality that was separated from the ship's mission system. This required the effective "shut off" of the normal Anti Air Warfare capability of HMS Daring, which slaved its main radar to the sole ABM task instead.
The aim for 2015 is to demonstrate an integrated ABM function running alongside the AAW mode. This paves the way for a "full spectrum" air defence and anti ballistic capability comparable to the latest american AEGIS Baseline 9 combat system; an ambitious target.
In early 2016 the Type 45 fleet will also finally begin to receive the fully integrated Electronic Chart Precise Integrated Navigation System, the key component of the Warship Electronic Chart Display and Information System (WECDIS) navigation capability.
WECDIS is a fleet-wide program which is delivering electronic mapping and navigation to the fleet, including to submarines.
Although still unconfirmed, according to Jane's the MOD is about to select the BAE MK45 Mod 4 gun as the artillery piece for the Maritime Indirect Fire System program, a branch of the wider Type 26 frigate enterprise. This would mean defeat for the Oto Melara / Babcock team, offering the 127/64 Lightweight, which was earlier seen as the favorite.
The Lightweight is a more modern artillery piece, offering a much higher rate of fire (over 30 rounds per minute versus 20 plus) and a wholly automated high capacity ammunition magazine. Both BAE and Oto Melara can also offer guided long-range ammunition, respectively the Standard Guided Projectile and the VULCANO ammunition family. These follow very different design phylosophies, with SGP using rocket propulsion to extend the range of a full-width 127mm shell, while VULCANO uses a sabot-discarding, slim dart which exploits aerodynamics to reach long distances, at the expense of a smaller payload. Details of the two guns and of their ammunition is inside an earlier article.
In addition, British Forces News has visited the BAE design centre, and saw the virtual reality 3D design work ongoing for the Type 26 frigate. Observing the design work, a couple of things caught my attention: the new warship is possibly going to have a mission centre aft of the bridge, with windows looking out directly over the sides of the vessel, and possibly even facing aft, to give a greater and more immediate situational awareness.
These 360° degrees bridges are becoming more common in warship design. The Holland class OPVs use the COBRA (COmmand BRidge Aft) arrangement; while other vessels have similar conceptual solutions, such as the DCNS Androit OPVs, and the still in design PAM multi-role warships for the italian navy.
There is no way to confirm, at the moment, whether my suspect is correct or not, but windows definitely seems to have appeared aft of the bridge, suggesting a COBRA-like arrangement.
|A long row of new windows has appeared aft of the bridge, right beneath the sensors mast. The funnel mast also seems to have been redesigned and split into two masts of differing heights.|
|The COBRA used on the Holland OPVs offers a mission control centre right behind the bridge. Armored windows ensure direct view of the bridge itself (see photo) as well as of the sides of the vessel.|
|Panoramic view of the COBRA centre, with windows giving a view on the bridge and on the sides of the vessel. Might the Type 26 gain a similar arrangement?|
|The bridge itself seems virtually identical to the Type 45's one. The images shown do not allow me to say whether there are windows between the bridge and the supposed mission control area aft of it, like in the COBRA arrangement.|
The graphic of the design being refined by BAE also suggests that the funnel mast has changed, splitting into two masts of different height.
It will be interesting to see how the mast area is eventually reconfigured, and if it has any impact on the disposition of the pole masts and related communications equipment; on sensors and eventually even on weapons capability. The aft CAMM launchers apparently are still there, in the low mast aft of the funnel area, but maybe the new arrangement opens up space for anti-ship missile launchers?
The Type 26 program should get the go ahead by the end of the year, probably with the aim to sign a contract for the first 8 frigates, leaving the other five for another day.
Among the hurdles to be overcome, we have to include the referendum that will decide the future of Scotland. Until the result is known, the shipbuilding programs will be somewhat restrained, including the final go away for the BAE's plan of redevelopment of the shipyards on the Clyde. The preferred option sees a 200 million upgrade to the Scotstoun facilities, to create a single, fully capable yard, with the closure of Govan and the transfer of the manpower. There is also, formally, an alternative that sees both shipyard retained, and given a more limited uplift. The ship building process split on two sites, however, is less efficient. Finally, there's the "doomsday" scenario that sees both these ideas junked, in the quest for uplifting the capacity of one of the shipyards south of the border instead, in the case Scotland walks away. Something i dearly hope does not happen, as it would bring nothing good, to no one.
HMS Tireless is about to leave service, after having its life extended (it was planned it would decommission already last year) and after completing another long deployment which gained great media visibility when it was sent searching for the lost MH370 airplane.
HMS Artful, the third of the Astute class submarines, has finally entered the water, many months later than originally planned. In general, the delays of the Astute class sure have kept the Royal Navy worried for a long time, and caused quite a bit of pressure.
Artful is the first in class fitted with the Common Combat System (CCS), which uses common consoles, electronics cabinets, and commercial off-the-shelf hardware and software to create a shared computer environment. The CCS is the result of a Royal Navy initiative to streamline and future proof the fleet's combat systems, to develop more open system architectures that are more cost-effective to maintain and easier to update.
The next submarine, Audacious, will be launched incorporating further improvements. such as the Naval Extremely / Super High Frequency Satcom terminal (NEST) and a variety of enhancements grouped under the Astute Capability Sustainment Programme.
NEST has seen the installation of a new antenna and related equipment at the Colerne satellite ground station in Wiltshire. This new equipment enables Super High Frequency communications using the british Skynet 5 satellite constellation, or Advanced Extremely High Frequency communications using the american AEHF satellite constellation.
The Rafael TORBUSTER advanced countermeasures system, which uses decoy which combine seduction and hard-kill capability, has been proposed as part of the Astute CSP by a team made up by BAE, Babcock and Rafael, but we might never get told whether it is being installed or not.When it comes to submarines, information is always sparse.
Full new Communication and Radar Electronic Support Measures (CESM and RESM) capability has also been funded as baseline fit from Boat 4 onwards.
The Spearfish heavyweight torpedo upgrade programme is also underway. The program includes the replacement of the two different fuels employed by the torpedo with a single one; the replacement of the warhead with a new one, compliant with Insensitive Munition rules; the digitalisation of the weapon; and a new fiber optic guide fibre replacing the current copper/cadmium wire, removing the delays in communication between the torpedo and the submarine. The end result will be almost a new weapon, with much greater capability and greater safety. Again, the details on the state of the Spearfish upgrade program are under wraps, but there has been a delay in the signature of contracts for the next phase of the work, which means delays.
Looking ahead, to the delivery of the next Astutes and further away to the Successor SSBNs, the MOD and BAE have given green light to a 300 million project for the upgrade of the shipyard facilities in Barrow.
The future could also include ultra-accurate navigation, completely independent from vulnerable GPS signals, thanks to a science development project ongoing for quantum positioning technology.
The contract for the delivery of three new OPVs should be signed soon. Little is known about these vessels, other than they will be derived from the 90m OPV design mostly known as Amazonas class, due to the ships of this type having been purchased by Brazil.
The new OPVs will have a flight deck compatible with the Merlin helicopter. What's not at all clear is the fate of the OPVs of the royal navy, as shortage of money and manpower might make these new vessels the replacements for the still young River-class. Even though the MOD has just purchased, for 39 millions, these vessels which have been operated for years under a leasing agreement.
I've already expressed my opinion that such a decision would be an inexcusable waste of money, time and good ships. While i fully understand the rationale of keeping the shipyards working to bridge the gap between the carriers and the Type 26 frigates, in order to keep the production line "hot" and in order to retain manpower and expertis, i think that withdrawing the Rivers would be a grave mistake.
The new OPVs will be extremely welcome and useful if they are kept in addition to the Rivers, not in their place.
The Rivers will be barely around 14 years old when the first new ship is delivered, in 2017, and the Royal Navy has a clear need for deployable hulls. The new OPVs, with their greater sizes and capability (including helicopter) can and should be used away from home, to relieve the frigates of some of their tasks (Caribbean, but also counter-piracy, for example), while the River continue to do what they have done well for years.
The government has right in these days published its Maritime Security strategy. The document, while being of some interest, hardly deserves the praise it received from several commenters. Moreover, the supposed "strategy" is written out in a deliberately ambivalent, vague way, especially when it comes to the new OPVs: mentioned several times in the document, they are described as a "further improvement" to the UK's maritime security capability, but not once there is a clear statement of their fate, and that of the Rivers. The official line is that the decision is left for the next SDSR. Of course.
The document has been written in such a way to allow the government to bin the Rivers and still describe the situation as an "improvement" because of the greater capabilities of the new vessels, regardless of the fact that, observing historical trends in the use of the Rivers, it is safe to say that such additional capabilities would be hardly be needed, and will only sparsely be exploited.
The hope can only be that, thanks to the very modest cost in money and manpower, the OPVs gain points in the SDSR.
Carrier Enabled Power Projection
With HMS Queen Elizabeth to be named by the queen on July 4, and the manufacture of HMS Prince of Wales currently significantly ahead of schedule, the building of the carriers is progressing well. The program costs have been re-agreed, hopefully for the last time, and the MOD is planning ahead to reach the SDSR 2015 with a full set of options for the way ahead for CEPP. In particular, the MOD is coming up with plans for the second carrier, as well as for the vital MARS Fleet Solid Support capability, which has to deliver the ships which will replace the Fort class vessels in the 2020s.
CEPP also includes a dependency program for the delivery of amphibious capability via the carriers, a requirement made unescapable by the impossibility to fund a dedicate replacement for HMS Ocean.
The carrier includes design features such as wide assault routes and accommodation for a 250-strong reinforced Marines company, which can be expanded further depending on the composition of the air wing. Less jets means more Marines and helicopters. Deck manoeuvers, and even deck layout, are being thought out to accommodate the amphibious requirement, including concurrent jet and helicopter operations. It is possible that the deck layout selected will include 10 spots for medium helicopters operations.
In a very welcome move, the MOD has also moved to substantially close the unacceptable gap in AEW coverage, by keeping 7 Sea King ASaC in service all the way to 2018, and by speeding up the CROWSNEST program by 18 months, with the aim of having the first AEW capability on Merlin HM2 in 2018, in time to nearly completely avoid the gap.
Fleet Air Arm
As said above, even as the Sea Kings of all other variants are withdrawn from service in 2016 as planned, 7 MK7 ASaC will be kept flying with 849 NAS up into the second half of 2018. By then, it is hoped that the initial capability of the CROWSNEST radar package for the Merlin HM2 will have been achieved, substantially closing the dangerous, unacceptable AEW gap which would have lasted for a good four years or more according to the initial plan.
As a way to prepare to the return of fixed wing naval aviation when 809 NAS will reform on F-35B, the Fleet Air Arm has taken back control of Fleet Requirements and Air Direction Unit (FRADU) from private contractor Serco. The squadron, equipped with 14 Hawk T1s, was recommissioned in Culdrose on June 6, 2013 as 736 NAS.
736 NAS is an extremely busy squadron, which has inherited all the tasks of FRADU.
Its role is serving as Maritime Aggressor Squadron, and is best known for providing threat simulation to warships conducting OST in the South Coast Exercise Areas. The Hawks, with the help of Falcon 20 aircraft loaded with towed targets and EW pods, provided by the contractor Cobham, train the royal navy in defence against air attacks.
736 NAS also delivers intercept training to the RN School of Fighter Control at Yeovilton, Close Air Support (CAS) training to 3 Cdo Bde as well as Army units, and Affiliation training to Rotary Wing Squadrons at both Culdrose and Yeovilton. It is a good place, in other words, for the Royal Navy pilots to work their way up to the rebirth of naval fixed wing aviation.
|FRADU in action, with Hawk and Falcon 20 jets, the latters equipped with a variety of EW system pods|
The Fleet Air Arm has finalised its plan for the transition from Lynx MK8 to Wildcat HMA2, which will include the return of 825 NAS, which will reform out of the merge of 700W Nas and 702 NAS as the training squadron moves on from Lynx to Wildcat.
825 NAS will be commissioned in september this year, to deliver training for the Wildcat and to form the first four ship flights.
815 NAS will begin to convert to Wildcat from the second half of 2015. The transition will take time, and Lynx helicopters will continue to provide their service all the way up to their OSD, planned for 31 March 2017.
815 NAS, once fully converted, will line 12 single-manned Flights at readiness for deployed operations worldwide and 2 double-manned MCT Flights at very high readiness in the UK.
One problem remains for Wildcat: the big delay in the FASGW program which has to deliver the two missiles it will use in its maritime attack role. They are not expected to be available before 2020, which means a big gap is taking shape as the Lynx force draws down and, with the Lynx, the Sea Skua missile does progressively vanish as well.
Separately, in the Commando Helicopter Force, 847 NAS is converting to Wildcat as well, but the squadron uses the Wildcat AH1, the same variant employed by the Army, in support of the Royal Marines. 847 NAS will be the first operational Wildcat squadron.
Another transition is due to take place in the CHF, with the Sea King HC4 being replaced by the ex-RAF Merlin HC3/3A, later to become HC4 as they are fully upgraded and navalised.
While Fleet Air Arm crews have been training for a long time and the transfer of the helicopters to the Navy is underway, the first bit of naval capability will only arrive between late 2015 and early 2016, as the first 7 Merlin are delivered in interim, Phase 1 navalisation including folding rotor head, lash down points and other minor changes. These helicopters (HC3i) will bridge the gap forming as the Sea King HC4 bows out of service, replaced by helicopters which, in their current form, are unsuitable for shipboard operations.
848 NAS, the training unit for Sea King HC4, stood down in december 2013 after delivering the last training course. 846 disbanded in March 2014, leaving Sea King to move on to the Merlin. The squadron will reform in September 2014, while the RAF Merlin squadron 78 will disband as the helicopters are handed over.
845 NAS continues to serve the Marines, with a mere 11 Sea King HC4 left in service. The squadron will reform with Merlin in August 2015, and sometime in the same year the second and last RAF Merlin squadron (28 Sqn) will disband.
It does not seem to be planned to reform 848 NAS: training will probably be delivered from within the two frontline squadrons. The total number of crews in the force will drop from 43 to 37, with all of them expected to be trained come 2016.
For the disbanding RAF Squadrons, there's a little ray of hope, as one of them might stand up again with Chinook as the new HC6 arrive, but this is not confirmed at the moment.
25 Merlin helicopters will undergo upgrade and navalisation (Phase 2) including the seven interim helicopters. The full program of changes includes electric folding tail, folding rotor head, lash down points, fast rope kit, a cockpit upgrade like that of the naval HM2 helicopters, an integrated digital map system, improved CHF-specific communication systems and uplifted integrated defensive aids suite, including Generation 3 Common Missile Warning System, which actually ads the capability to locate the source of small arms and RPG fire as well.
The first fully reworked helicopter, to be known as HC4 / 4A, will be delivered in late 2017, and the deliveries won't be completed before march 2022.