Tuesday, 28 August 2012

South Asia and gunboat diplomacy. The emerging lessons identified from recent disputes.


In recent weeks there have been a growing number of reports about territorial disputes between various nations in South East Asia, including Japan, Korea, the Philippines and China. These disputes seem to be marked by common features, namely the use of maritime assets in near conflict to push the case for a nations sovereignty over a particular island group or Archipelago. There has been plenty of film footage shot of warships, coastguard vessels and even protest groups publicly coming close to blows to pursue various nations territorial claims.

The purpose of this short article is consider whether there are any emerging lessons for the wider maritime environment coming out from these disputes. Humphreys view is that they have highlighted a number of points worth remembering.

 The Vessel is the Nation, the Nation is the Vessel.
One message emerging clearly from the disputes is that to many nations, using naval vessels (or coastguard / paramilitary vessels) is a means of asserting national pride and sovereignty. Warships occupy a peculiar place in the heart of a nations psyche – most people in the UK can remember the loss of HMS SHEFFIELD, but would struggle to tell you the names of any service person killed in Afghanistan over the summer. A warship is much more than just a steel machine, it is the embodiment of a nations pride and treasure, her decks represent national turf, and her appearance is a symbol of the nation. The loss of a warship, or her grounding, damage or even being boxed in by other nations represents more than just a minor tactical problem; it is a huge blow to national pride.

One thing clearly emerging from these disputes is the continued place at the heart of national pride held by many nations’ navies. The loss of face caused by a vessel being boxed in, or the stubborn unwillingness to up anchor and leave, represents both national pride, and a desire to avoid humiliation.

Many of these on-going disputes would arguably have had far less public impact had they involved two Companies of soldiers facing off against each other. It is easy to film a warship from a distance, far harder to show troops dug in and prepared for action. A warship represents a very visible sign of a nations determination to push a particular course of action, or to assert its claim. The old maxim of ‘sending a gunboat’ remains true to this day – dispatching a vessel shows a nation is willing to stake national prestige over an issue in a manner which the dispatch of ground forces, or over flights cannot do.

The first lesson identified would be this:

 

1.       Warships will continue to be the most physical representation of a nations security policy, and the desire to avoid humiliation may cause escalations in tensions.

Sustainability is everything
In the disputes over the various island groups, archipelagos and groups of rocks in the region, one thing remains common; the complete reliance on external assistance by people based on these locations to sustain their way of life. Unlike other island groups elsewhere, most of the disputed territories are barely able to support human life, being short of arable land, potable water, and the other necessities of life. Anyone landing on these islands to make a political protest is utterly reliant on the sea to provide them with their support.

For nations seeking to put forward an assertive policy, it is not enough to put people onto these islands, control of the sea lanes remains essential too. Any nation wishing to support their people, and prevent them starving to death, will have to possess the ability to exert sufficient control to get supply vessels through on a continual basis. Therefore, the second lesson identified would be:

2.       Future island based territorial disputes will rely on effective maritime force to be sustainable. A nation without the ability to sustain a distant territorial claim will face certain humiliation.

The Sea is a Battlefield
One key factor in these disputes has been the sight of vessels practically ramming each other or blocking each other’s ability to manoeuvre effectively. Again this shows the importance, and danger, of maritime power – aircraft would not be able to engage in such manoeuvres, at least not without causing a crash, while land forces exchanging blows would be tantamount to a declaration of war.

The maritime environment permits nations to engage in proxy conflict in a manner unthinkable in other domains. At the same time, it has potential to cause even greater accidental escalation when things go wrong. All it takes is poor weather jolting a ship at the wrong time, or a misjudged decision to both turn into each other’s course (thus ignoring the Rules of the Road), and suddenly catastrophe looms. Look at the collision between HMS ARK ROYAL and a Kotlin class destroyer in the Med in 1975, or at various RN warships with Icelandic trawlers during the ‘cod war’ – these sort of disputes can cause real damage to vessels, and in the worst cases get people killed. This returns to the first point- where national pride is at stake, the sea can be a dangerous place to have a disagreement. In 1904 the Russians nearly came to the brink of war with the UK when they mistook a trawler fleet for Japanese torpedo boats, opening fire and killing many innocent fishermen. The same could occur in this sort of dispute – poor timing, or poor judgement on the part of an Officer of the Watch could see his nation on the brink of war. This then leads to further lessons:


3.       Confidence building measures at sea are essential to avoid conflict. Nations in dispute need to invest in ‘hotlines’ to try and ensure accidents are not mistaken as an act of war.

 

4.       There needs to be effective training of, and trust invested in, junior officers to give them the confidence to carry out ship handling without worrying that it could start a war. Good training is everything.

 The Navy is not always the answer – but ensure you have joined up Government
One interesting sight is the way in which some disputes are not carried out using traditional naval vessels, but instead through government agencies. The Chinese government has multiple agencies with a maritime constabulary role, many of which have been drawn into territorial disputes. This highlights the importance of investing in not just a navy, but a wider constabulary fleet. The deployment of a warship is a serious escalatory measure, and not always a welcome one in a crisis. A nation only possessing warships has no other means of visibly upping the ante in the event that a dispute continues. By contrast the deployment of other Government vessels can sometimes highlight a Governments concern on a specific situation without involving military personnel. At the same time though, it is essential that each different department is working to a joined up plan – if one agency has different rules of engagement to another, then there is a real danger of crisis escalation.

5.       Investing in joined up government, building trusted relationships between departments, and ensuring common approach to ROE is essential to avoid escalation of maritime disputes.

6.       Government investment in effective Maritime constabulary will be of increasing importance in the 21st century, as a means of demonstrating concern, without resorting to military involvement.

7.       The nature of conflict in the maritime environment means it is less likely that shots will be fired, but that any ramping up of the stand-off could rapidly escalate out of control.

OPVs are neither glamorous or sexy, but they have staying power
A strong case can be made that frigates, while vital to high end naval capability, are probably the wrong vessel for the sort of blockade duties we see occurring in the region. A frigate is a highly complex vessel, capable of projecting power and defending itself against a range of threats. Is it the best vessel though to try to spend weeks or months in a standoff with another nations rusty old tug or NGO supporters in a boat? Similarly, if things turn more physical and ships start colliding, the potential loss of a frigate to heavy damage, forcing it to depart from the scene would not only cause national humiliation, but reduce many nations front line force. By contrast, the presence of OPVs, able to maintain station for long periods of time, which are not hugely complex, but which can sit and engage in stand offs with other nations are likely to be increasingly important. They can take damage without the same loss of pride or capability, and can spend days, weeks or months sitting in a region without reducing wider naval high end capabilities.

8.       Investment in OPVs will be an increasing priority for some nations, probably ahead of higher end capabilities. Similarly, supply and replenishment vessels extending the ability to remain at sea will become more important.

Conclusion
It's clear that there will be more of these disputes over time, as nations grow more assertive over sovereignty, and resources diminish. There will be more such disputes in the future, and although they may not meet the more popular image of naval combat, they reflect the continued and age old tradition of ‘blockade’. There is a danger that without proper investment in command and control, better co-ordination of a complex range of government assets, then situations could rapidly spiral out of control. Nations are unlikely to take the loss of a major warship or vessel lightly, so although shooting wars between countries over territorial disputes remain highly unlikely, when they do occur, then the consequences could be very grave indeed.

This is just a quick set of ideas, designed to try and think out about the potential implications of the growing number of maritime territorial disputes in the world. They were formulated in the authors head during a long running session recently, and reflect possibly some quite ‘immature’ thinking. Humphrey would welcome comments from readers as to whether they agree or disagree, as this is an area where a very healthy debate can be had.

 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

A new PUS, same old in-tray. Thoughts on the appointment of Jon Thompson.


The MOD used the start of a Bank Holiday weekend to quietly slip out the news that the competition to replace Ursula Brennan had been concluded. The new PUS will be the current finance director, Jon Thompson.

This was always going to be a fascinating competition – there is arguably a dearth  of talent at the senior 3* gusting 4* level right now. The author has spoken to a lot of friends and acquaintances and their opinion of the current home-grown MOD talent pool is that there are some superb people in the system, many of whom have the potential to be excellent PUS material within the next couple of years. Right now though, it feels as if the department is still coming to the end of its ‘lean years’, marked by the appointment of Ursula Brennan, due to the lack of anyone else allegedly wanting to take on the job.

Humphrey has no idea who else was in the running for the post. There is some suggestion from a commentator here that Bernard Grey put his name forward, but beyond that, no names have been publicly suggested. The job was openly advertised though – the joy of the civil service recruitment system means that anyone, of any grade, can apply for a post once it reaches a certain point in the recruitment system. Humphrey saw, and was tempted, to put in an application for the PUS role, if only to mirror the example of the Danish CDS of a junior individual suddenly promoted over many more senior officers. In reality, it would have been amusing to see the feedback on the application, and see why exactly a stunningly average, gusting mediocre career to date doesn’t qualify him to follow in the footsteps of previous PUS.

What though can be deduced from this appointment? Several thoughts spring to mind:

 Finance is everything
Jon Thompson is coming to the role from a lifelong finance background. A quick glance at his biography (HERE) shows an individual who has spent his life working in the detailed financial sector. He has not, by any means, followed the traditional policy route seen of so many civil servants in the past.

His appointment shows that he will be someone who knows where the bodies are buried, and who cannot be baffled on financial matters. Having spent the best part of three years trying to bring order to a massively overheated, overcommitted and over ambitious budget, he knows full well the scale of the problem overcome, and likely scale of future challenges. He will be ideally placed to go  into negotiations with HM Treasury ahead of the next spending review and Strategic Defence & Security Review in 2015. He’s not an idealist policy wonk, he’s a financier, and that will make a major difference to his credibility on Whitehall.

Policy Wonking is so yesterday
The traditional career path for MOD civil servants appears to be gone forever. The days when a young thruster, probably educated at Oxford, joined the civil service, was posted to MOD and remained there forever until he either retired, got caught in compromising photos with a Communist plant, or was appointed PUS have gone.

The MOD seems to no longer generate first rate internal civil servants capable of leading a department. If one looks at recent history, many of the most senior MOD officials have been brought in from the outside, parachuted in at senior levels to take charge. This seems a damning indictment of a training structure which used to do so well at generating good officials.

Within Whitehall there used to be a clear pecking order in terms of the quality of civil servants. MOD ones were highly regarded, and often sought after by other departments. Today though, the author is struggling to think of a single ex MOD civil servant who occupies a PUS level role in Government. The sad reality is that the MOD talent generation system has seemingly failed. The high quality civil servants at junior levels, who are so keenly sought after by other departments, do not appear to be rising to the challenge at the top of the game.

If the MOD still had an HR personnel management system (and it doesn’t, for it scrapped HR management of its personnel nearly 10 years ago), then there should be a serious review into why the department is failing to produce PUS grade civil servants. Many good staff are leaving, but they aren’t leaving to take on other departments, they are just leaving the civil service.

The problem is the complete lack of real talent management, beyond a token development scheme which abandons successful staff at the Grade 7 level.  There seems to be no real sense that MOD has an interest in taking staff forward, from the day they arrive in Main Building as a fresh faced cherub, to the day they retire. The system seems to be more about being a job than a career now, and staff are reacting appropriately.

The MOD decided to abandon real staff development as a savings measure, and it is now reaping what it has sown. Arguably at all levels of management there is no real career development measures, instead relying on civil servants to work out for themselves what they want to be when they grow up. A fine idea in theory, but one which has utterly failed in practise. There is no manpower management, no staff development, no rotation of posts to ensure no area is reliant on a single point of failure. If you believe rumours circulating in Whitehall bars, then as a result of redundancies, whole business areas are losing their talent pool, and no one knows how to do the job, because people are not post rotated anymore.

The appointment of someone who is not a lifelong MOD civil servant to be PUS merely highlights the growing challenge of talent management in the system. There are good people out there – as noted above, there are some immensely capable senior civil servants in the MOD, but they have yet to reach the point where they can compete for these posts. The loss of the 2nd PUS post this year means that there is a reduced career structure for the best MOD civil servants, and less motivation to stay in the system.

Does it matter?
The flip side of the question though is whether all of this really matters? After all, a quick review of industry shows that many companies senior management is drawn from personnel who move around a great deal, and are emphatically not ‘lifers’. There seems to be relatively little precedence for in house personnel spending 40 years in the same FTSE 100 company, eventually ending up as the CEO (yes it can happen, but not so much anymore). In this time when MOD seeks to emulate the wider world of business, does it really matter where the senior staff are sourced from?

The role of the civil service is to provide impartial advice to the Government of the day. It is the PUS who delivers this advice, based in part on a lifetime of understanding the system they work in. But, in reality the advice is sourced from more junior civil servants who will formulate policy, and put it to PUS as guidance. Arguably providing the person who is providing this advice understands the system, and understands the briefing material, then it doesn’t matter. What matters is putting high quality junior civil servants into the right posts to ensure they can deliver the briefs at the right time.  

The challenge is to provide these more junior civil servants with a career path and get them the posts where they can advise PUS in the first place though. As an example Humphrey is relatively junior, non Oxbridge, and non Faststream, and sees no future in the civil service. As someone who is repeatedly told he has huge potential, is keen & ambitious, it is heart-breaking to see no way to progress up the system. Why stay working for a system that has no interest in developing you, no interest in promoting you, and which seemingly has no coherent succession planning in place? After 10 years in the system, the author has reluctantly realised that he has no future in it, and is now actively looking for work outside the system – simply to try and find a career which has prospects. Although there is no leaving date in mind, it feels an enormous relief to accept that there is the chance of a fresh start, and for working somewhere which might actually give a damn about its staff and their development.

That someone who is so keen should be so keen to leave should be sending up a worrying signal to the HR system. The civil service suffers from an aging workforce, and yet increasingly the younger part of the demographic is seeking to leave. Humphrey is one of the last of his peer group to make the decision to jump – of those he joined with, hardly any are left, and all are looking for work elsewhere. The problem for the future is that those who could be outstanding mid level, and senior senior civil servants are instead now looking elsewhere. The situation is self-perpetuating – by reducing opportunity at the top, and not promoting a proper career structure from within, the best staff leave. With no career opportunities, those who could be PUS, and who used to be 'grown internally' to compete for these positions, have gone forever. How many people who could be excellent 1 or 2* officers in 10-20 years time have gone, abandoned by a system which never even knew about the quality of the talent that they possessed?

There is no simple answer, but the message for the new PUS is clear. He inherits a department that is busy, but with low morale, with civil servants who feel they have been the fall guys for the political ambition & failings of the last decade, and a military system keen to claim glory, but shirk responsibility for mistakes. He has to rebuild morale, show that despite suffering more manpower cuts than all three armed services combined that there is a career future for good civil servants, and that people value the contribution that they make to the defence of the realm. It is an immensely challenging task, and he may well struggle, but Humphrey wishes him all the best on his journey, and fervently hopes that under new leadership his own faith and belief in something he once loved will be once again rekindled.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Meanwhile, back at the Ministry. Making sense of the summer recess announcements


It’s been an interesting few weeks for the MOD, with a multitude of announcements, media coverage and developments occurring, all of which seem to be linked.  In this article, Humphrey wants to try and bring together many of the smaller stories that have cropped up, and see whether there is any common theme here.

First up is the news this week of major changes to the MOD ‘Head Office’ (sometimes known as Main Building or the MOD) structure, which will significantly change the way that the MOD does business. This was reported in the media as being a bonfire of the generals, with 25% fewer 1* posts in future. While the media revelled in this, what was missed was the more interesting ‘so what’.

These changes owe their roots to the Levene Review, and the efforts to reduce the top level administration of the armed forces. Since this was published, the MOD has spent a lot of time working out an entirely new business structure, and this is the latest piece of the puzzle.

What Levene has suggested, and what is now being implemented is reducing top level posts, such as the CINC posts, but bolstering greater financial accountability to the three Services. In future, the Service Chiefs will have significantly greater say over how their budgets are spent, with financial delegation handed down to them. As noted elsewhere on this blog, it will be much easier for the Services to prioritise their funding in future, instead of fighting internecine warfare with the other two services for cash.

In this new structure, MOD Head Office becomes far more of a strategic HQ, focusing on top level security policy, advice to Ministers and provision of certain niche roles. Finance is pushed out to the three services, and with it, much of the procurement roles traditionally undertaken in Main Building. The new Head Office will be far less involved in day to day budgetary issues than before – this means Service Chiefs will be far more empowered than they have been previously. A cynic would suggest that it makes it easier for politicians and civil servants to escape the blame when things go wrong – after all, if the RAF chose to prioritise funding on hotels over missiles, then that’s down to the Service Chief, and not the Head Office. Theoretically, a brave new world of delegation awaits, although it’s currently hard to predict whether it will be a success or not.

So, the first ‘message’ we see is that the MOD is absolutely serious about making Levene happen. The next message is that there seems to be a push to try to do down the supposed privileges of senior personnel. There was quite a lot of media coverage about the reported decisions to scale down Service housing, and reduce benefits for senior officers. This again plays into the narrative of a cash strapped department finally putting its house in order and ending the bastions of privilege that supposedly exist for senior officers.

The reality is that most senior officers don’t get official houses, and those that do use them on behalf of HMG to carry out a lot of official hosting and entertainment. It’s often forgotten that by the time an officer reaches 2-3* level, they are no longer masters of their own destiny. They have to spend much of the day, including late into the evenings, conducting dinners, talks, meetings and so on. By this point, the role of senior officers is as much about representing the military to the wider public and foreign governments, as it is about doing their day job. Things like cooks, stewards and so on go a long way to help keep officers looking smart, in the right uniform at the right time, and able to do their job. It’s very easy to make out that senior officers get it easy, but in reality many of them have working days starting before 7am, and ending well after 11pm, sometimes seven days per week.

So, what is interesting with these cuts is that if houses are sold, and retinues reduced, then there is an admission that the military will seemingly no longer be expecting as many senior officers to do as much discrete hosting and receptions, which are often critical to influencing a diverse range of people. It would seem reasonable to judge that in order to placate critics who snipe at the military senior ranks, the MOD has decided to withdraw senior ranks from much of their vital and rarely seen influence work.

 
The implementation of SDSR rolls on
While the debate over top level structures and officers batmen has raged, one should look at the type of press releases coming out from the MOD. There has been a noticeable trend to push the Olympics, far less coverage on HERRICK and a general increase in the number of ‘return to contingency’ press releases, often involving the Reserves.

The author’s personal view is that there seems to be a consistent narrative in recent announcements designed to show the SDSR as a success. After all the negative media coverage in the last 18 months over the SDSR and the wisdom of its decisions, the MOD desperately needs to be able to show that the ability to deliver on the day has not been affected. For all the negative coverage, the fact is that since SDSR, the UK has fought a significant maritime & air campaign in Libya, deployed 20,000 troops onto the streets of London for the Olympics and sustained 10,000 troops on operations in Afghanistan. This is in addition to the usual round of commitments in the Falklands, Gulf, Cyprus, and Gibraltar and so on, and in addition to the training deployments.

The message that MOD appears to be pushing hard is that ‘yes we have less kit, but it hasn’t stopped us from delivering what is expected of us’. The move to showcase the Olympics is one which reinforces the role of the military in supporting home operations (a key strand of the SDSR), while press releases highlighting contingent capabilities – such as exercises testing rapid reaction forces like 16 Air Assault Brigade – show how the UK remains able to globally intervene. One senses that as we move to drawdown from HERRICK, the focus shifts to ‘good news’ (e.g. Afghan police trained by the UK feed starving orphans with organically raised, privately educated chickens), and not a focus on more kinetic operations. The public need to be convinced that we are approaching operational success, and stories of ‘one last push’ are less helpful now.

At the same time we have seen a slew of ‘good new kit’ stories, which are helping to highlight the new equipment entering service over the medium term. Much of the media coverage post SDSR has focused on cuts, and not the focus on delivering a regenerated force in the 2020 timeframe. Announcements such as the one about the Type 26 are an effort to show that even though cuts were made, the funding is in place to take work forward. Although it will be some time before these hulls hit the water, the fact is that the funding for them exists. By putting out these sort of announcements, MOD is trying to reinforce the message that it’s not all doom and gloom.

That said, the author found it amusing the way that some papers sought to portray the announcement on Type 26, and that it won’t go to contract until 2015 (a very long planned key date) as some kind of sign that the UK was waiting to see the result of the Scottish independence referendum. Only in the eyes of the media can they take two utterly disparate facts, and try to turn this into a linked ‘news’ story!

So, the author’s judgement is that what we are seeing in the news is the effort by the MOD to try and reassure that all is well. It’s not an unfair point to make – despite much concern about reductions, the fact remains that the military have yet to publicly fail to deliver on any of the tasks expected of them in the last 18 months.

 Is morale collapsing?

Although the MOD is keen to point out that the military have not failed to deliver, the media remain keen to pick up on suggestions that morale is collapsing. The release of the comprehensive attitude survey has provided ammunition to those who suggest that morale is broken as a result of the high level of operational tempo and the recent cuts.

Humphrey is more cynical – the total number of respondents was barely 12000 personnel, out of a whole military force of over 200,000 (when one includes reserves). A response rate of barely 10% is probably not the most accurate barometer of service attitudes.

As serving personnel noted on the internet, many of those who fill in these forms have done so to confirm to themselves why they think things are bad. No one is forced to fill in a CAS survey, and it’s rare to find people willing to spend time filling in a survey to say everything is just fine. The author has personally only filled in morale surveys when he is pissed off with something, in the hope that somehow, somewhere, people will become aware of his views and maybe try and fix issues.

So, the reality is that while the survey results are undeniably not brilliant, they should not be seen as the end of the world. The truth is probably more prosaic – people are feeling down in some areas, but then the military is full of cynical people. It’s an irony that from the first day in service to the last, people will find something to complain, moan or grumble about. The point when Humphrey starts worrying is when people stop grumbling and start being deadly quiet – this often means that something serious is afoot.

How concerned should people really be? Humphrey’s personal impression is that there is a sense of frustration and tiredness in some areas. Some parts of the military have been very, very busy for over 10 years now, and people are getting tired. Many people are also tired of being punished for success – to some, there is a sense that Defence has been able to save the political reputation of every Prime Minister for the last 10 years, and yet it continues to be cut, slashed and attacked. It is hard to stay motivated when people see no light at the end of the tunnel – there is no clear indicator that the long term trend of managed force level decline will be reversed until the military fails. On the one hand it is clear that there is a lot of frustration out there, and people will continue to vote with their feet. But the more interesting question is how many of those people leaving would have left anyway? The average period of service for non-commissioned personnel is nine years – while the recent cuts won’t have helped morale, it’s probably fair to say that many of those leaving may well have left anyway.

The much more interesting question is how morale will cope after 2015. In theory, with HERRICK over, and the military returning to the UK, then morale should improve as deployments reduce, and the Army returns to a more ‘barrack life’ focus. Humphrey strongly suspects that there will be little noticeable difference to CAS surveys – people will still find fault, but this time because they are bored with the lack of opportunities to soldier. As noted, people will find a reason to grumble and be down.

 
Conclusion
So what does all this mean? Well, it’s clear that the MOD is trying to focus far more on the future, through structural reform, organisational change and emphasising success on operations. Whether people like it or not, Defence has shown it can not only reform itself, but also deliver what is asked of it on operations. Yes morale appears on the surface to be shaky, but whether this is a genuinely accurate reflection on the situation is less clear.

What is clear though is that for a traditionally quiet time of year, this has been anything but a ‘quiet silly season’…

Sunday, 19 August 2012

When is a defence cut not really a defence cut? When its linked to implementing the Leven Review...


 A small example of how announcements can be made repeatedly, and also how cuts are not really cuts was seen today in the Mail on Sunday. The paper ran a long article citing claims that the MOD is about to cut 25% of its senior (e.g. 2* and above) officers, in both the Military and Civil Service. The original story can be found HERE. The story leads on the concept that all three 4* Commander in Chief roles (CINCLAND, CINCFLEET and CINCAIR) plus the CINCNAVHOME role, will be scrapped as part of plans to streamline the top level of the military.

In reality these announcements are not anything new – anyone who has read the Levene Review which came out in 2011 saw this as a major recommendation of the review. It suggested that the role of CINCs was probably unnecessary in the modern era of better command and control. At its most basic, a CINC existed to exercise control over all forces in their area, in the absence of ability for home commands to work in a similar manner. This is a historical legacy, dating back to the days when it was not possible for effective C2 arrangements to allow London to direct all the many diverse overseas locations where UK troops were stationed. Over time the CINC job title has reduced in number, down to the current three 4* posts. In practise, the CINC posts were delegated by the Service Chiefs to exercise effective control over vast swathes of the military, while the Chiefs fought the political battles in Whitehall.

Does this mean then that the UK is ‘cutting top brass by 25%’? Well the answer is, no not really. What has instead happened is that the MOD has adopted a new command structure whereby there will only be one 4* Officer in each service. The old CINC posts have been retitled and dropped to 3* level – e.g. CINCFLEET has become the Deputy Chief of the Naval Staff, and been given the new title ‘Fleet Commander’.  Meanwhile, the Service Chiefs will take on a more integrated role, exercising considerably more command over their Services, working remotely at their Service Headquarters several days per week, and spending less time in London focusing on the political battles. At the same time senior officers will occupy posts for up to five years, giving them far more time to focus on delivery in key roles.

This is an interesting move – it removes the potential for friction between the 4* Officers in the service, and ensures that there is a more clear chain of command between the heads of the Services, and the forces they command. It does not necessarily change much in terms of command structures – the old CINC posts will go, but they will immediately be replaced by 3* Officers by next year. So there is a net loss of no posts at all from this reduction. What will instead happen is the more subtle process of downgrading posts through the system – e.g. the DCINC role, usually done by a 3* will either be abolished or downgraded to 2*. So, the wage bill reduces, the costs reduce and the ranks reduce, but there is still unlikely to be a net loss of senior officers at the moment.

It does though make for interesting opportunities for the up and coming generation of officers. One of the challenges that Humphrey has commented on before is the way in which the very best officers in their early forties will often leave the military after they’ve conducted command tours. Many see the gap between their current post, and taking on a meaningful role again to be simply too great – it could be 15-20 years before they reach the apex of the pyramid and are in contention for senior jobs. By downgrading top level jobs, it means that ‘punchy’ job opportunities will open up at the 1&2* level – suddenly it may be more tempting for some of them to stay if they feel that they have a real shot at promotion to this level. It will be interesting to see how the current generation of high flyers’ react to the increased opportunities for meaningful posts at 2* level – will they stay the course, or will they continue to jump ship and go to industry?

The story then is a bit of a non-story – but its interesting to see the differing lines being taken on it. On the one hand there is a spot of good PR for ‘getting rid of senior officers’ (even though this has already been announced), and on the other hand there is a good opportunity for opposition politicians to make political capital by denouncing further ‘defence cuts’ (even though they’ve already been announced). In reality though, not much will change – there will still be the same jobs, just done under a different post title, and with a slightly more junior officer in charge. The really interesting change is the manner in which the Service Chiefs are taking far more role in their military, and less on the Whitehall battle. How this pans out in the next few years, as all three services rely heavily on very good 2* officers to do the ‘Assistant Chief of Staff’ post, in order to fight their corner remains to be seen. Arguably this decision is placing a heavy burden on the 2*s who will have to step up to the plate and deliver for their Service, rather than relying on 4*s to do it for them. Interesting times indeed…

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A short site update


Well the sun is beating down (somewhere!), and the vast majority of the population are enjoying their well deserved summer leave. Humphrey is working on, taking his leave later in the year in order to go mountain climbing in an obscure part of the world, and taking a vow of spending two weeks without saying ‘that seems a politically very brave decision Minister’…

In the interim, he wanted to provide a short update about the blog as a whole, to give an idea of what lies ahead. Having discovered the site statistics section on the control panel, it gives all manner of useful information about what articles are read, and where readers interests lie. At present many of the most widely read articles are on naval matters, backed up by information on wider governmental issues.

The site was established in order to try and provide a source of ‘rebuttal’ and explain in context why the MOD does things, and why what is being criticised in the media often makes more sense when the full picture is explained. In the last few months these stories have dropped off, seemingly the media is either in line with the national mood of gratitude to MOD for saving the Olympic Games from near disaster, or the media have easier targets in their sights. Humphrey will continue to publish short articles as and when news breaks, but right now, it feels very quiet on this front.

Another aim of this site was to try and put across the views of the oft neglected civil service, who feel as if they are seen as the villain of the piece. It would be easy to put out regular posts about this, and trying to summarise what it feels like to be in  this much maligned organisation. That said, the author can’t help but feel that you can over flog a dead horse. There is a limit to the number of times you can say ‘things aren’t as good as they seem for the MOD' before people lose interest. While it seems certain the MOD CS will be in the media spotlight again soon, particularly if some of the rumours emanating from Whitehall pubs are true, until this point, it is likely that the author will do less ‘generalist’ articles on the MOD CS, and focus in on specific issues as they are raised in the media.

The main area where there is interest is in both articles looking at the UK role in the world, and also what is going on with the Royal Navy and other Navies. Where Humphrey feels he can add value to debating an issue, then there will continue to be analytical articles focusing on this sort of subject. But, this is not a fantasy fleets discussion blog! While Humphrey greatly enjoys reading some of the comments on the articles he posts, he tends not to comment on ‘fantasy fleet’ discussions, as he doesn’t want his speculation to be confused with that of ‘informed comment’, which is then taken out of context. So, by all means continue the debates, and where possible the author will try to comment or add his views. But, please don’t be offended if there is not always a response.

Moving forward, the plan is to continue to produce one-two articles per week, depending on real world commitments and what is going on in the Defence sphere. This blog is written at home, in the authors spare time, so sometimes updates will be less frequent as real life intrudes.

In terms of what is coming up, Humphrey has a few articles in mind that he’d like to write as slightly deeper think pieces, and also continue with the wider work of looking at events as they become news. These pieces have no definitive ‘due date’, but will be written as time, and events permit. They include:

‘Reasons to be Positive’ – Parts Four – the Maritime Reserve, Five – the lessons of the last decade and Six – the Fleet Air Arm. ‘

                ‘Is there a future for Surface – Surface Guide Missiles in Naval Warfare’?

                ‘Olympics Lessons identified – what can the MOD / RN learn from OP OLYMPICS’?

                ‘Is there such a thing as an Officer Class, and does it matter’?

                ‘The Importance of Africa to Defence’ (part of a wider Think Defence piece)

If there is something readers would like to see written about, then please don’t hesitate to contact me via the email address.

Many thanks for all the participation and comments – this blog is a labour of love, and it is wonderful to know that people enjoy reading it.


Tuesday, 14 August 2012

"Add Two Type 45s to your shopping basket? - Click here to purchase". The reason the UK can't just 'buy two more Type 45s'...



This article was born out of suggestions elsewhere on this site about the feasibility of the UK deciding to order an additional pair of Type 45 destroyers to bolster the Royal Navy’s (RN) escort fleet. The purpose of this article is to try to explain the financial context when they were cancelled, and also consider some of the challenges involved in trying to complete two new T45s now.

From the outset, let’s be extremely clear. This article is not saying that the UK could not build two more Type 45s – if the will is there, and the budget exists to do so, then anything is possible. As will be seen though, the challenge is trying to do so in a manner which makes rational sense.

Background

As many readers will recall, the T45 programme originally had its roots in the NATO standard Frigate, then Horizon project of the 1980s and 1990s. Following UK withdrawal from this project, the T45 emerged as a national design, albeit similar in some ways to the Franco / Italian vessels. The initial requirement was for 12 hulls, on a one for one replacement for the T42s then in service in the mid-1990s.

The SDR saw the first draw down in the T42 fleet, losing BIRMINGHAM to cuts when it reduced from 35-32 escorts in 1998. As the RN went from 32 to 25 in 2004, the remaining early T42s were included in the sale, decommissioning a couple of years early, although in reality they were in such poor material state by then that it was not a major loss. Around this time the requirement for 12 hulls was reduced to 8, to reflect the reduced destroyer requirement.

At this time the intent remained to order a further batch of two Type 45s at some point – Six were already on order and firmly ensconced in the planning budget. By 2008 though the decision had been taken to cancel the batch two vessels, as part of wider planning round considerations which saw the surface fleet reduced to just 23 hulls.

HMS DUNCAN ready to launch (Copyright STV)

PR08
If you ever want to get an involuntary shudder from a Whitehall escapee, and then ensure they spend the rest of the evening moaning quietly in the corner, in the manner of a prisoner from Azkaban who has been caught by the Dementors, then just say the dreaded words ‘Planning Round’.

In the somewhat complex world of MOD finances, a range of methods have been used in recent years to try to plan the forward budget. The author is aware that the system used has changed once again, although he is not familiar with its new construct.

In the mid-2000s though, the MOD used a system known as Planning Rounds (PR) to try to manage the complexity of not only the equipment programme, but also the wider defence budget. The theory was very sound, every two years the MOD would conduct an examination of its budget, and ensure that sufficient funding existed to put all planned programmes and projects into service. Where there was a mismatch in funding, through the use of reduced spending totals, different budgetary areas would seek to cut spending to meet the new total. In order to identify these cuts, wider ranges of potential cuts were considered and presented as ‘Options’. The options were scrutinised at varying levels, enabling packages of cuts to be drawn up which in turn would meet varying savings targets.

In theory, if this worked correctly then it would deliver a balanced budget every two years, ensuring that the MOD could plan with a certain degree of confidence. The idealised ‘Planning Round’ process would in tabular format, look a little something like this, albeit vastly simplified.

Stage
Planned Activity
1
MOD Centre issued total budget. Advises all commands of their own budget totals.
2
Each TLB, (or Capability area in CTLB /DE&S) review budget totals, consider how to make savings in line with any guidance from Centre (e.g. don’t even think about deleting Project X).
3
Savings totals cascaded down from TLB to team level. Teams spend time considering where savings can be made, both in year, and also in follow on 10 year programme. Options drawn up which identify varying levels of cuts.
4
Savings options generated across TLB, presented to senior TLB management for consideration. Overall package put together and submitted to Centre.
5
Centre TLB considers all submissions, decides which combination of options to take, or asks for further cuts in specific areas. Period of redrafting commences, prior to acceptance of final package.
6
Final package, containing agreement on both cuts, and any compensating enhancements to the budget to reflect changes or operational issues, agreed and put in front of Defence Board, then Ministers for final approval.
7
Ministers sign off on package, books balance, and MOD budget is secure.


This is the theory at least. In reality, there was far more leaking, counter briefing, ‘disagreement’ and other problems associated with the process. An outsider could usually tell what stage the planning round was at by the type of options being discussed, and the level of outrage displayed. As a general rule this author normally saw leaks to the Daily Telegraph or Mail as being ‘first innings’ designed to head off things like ‘disbanding the Parachute Regiment’. By the time leaks had reached the Guardian or Independent, they were generally at the point of concluding the process and putting more accurate stories out there.

In the case of the T45, the decision to axe the Batch Two purchase would have been taken at a time when there was significant pressure on the budget. The lack of an update to the SDR since 1998 meant that the Forces were required to plan on assumptions which were out of date, and not funded, but which Ministers had not overturned. At the same time, on-going operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were squeezing the medium term budget – not the UOR territory, but rather seeing emphasis on  equipment entering service in the medium term, ensuring changes were made to keep it relevant to developments in theatre. Add to this the reality that there was too much in the programme, vying for funding at a time when cash was declining in real terms, and suddenly there is a major squeeze on the budget.

The problem with buying the hulls isn’t finding £750m per hull (or thereabouts) in one year to fund the vessel. In the UK system, procurement doesn’t simply send a large cheque to the builders in return for a vessel in a few years’ time. Rather, the system breaks expenditure down over several years, with different sums being injected at different points. It is likely (although Humphrey cannot confirm) that the spend profile for the T45 would have clashed with other spending profiles. When it came to try to balance the budget out, not just in year, but also out to five – ten years’ time, there would have been too much pressure in the system. The option to delete the last two T45s would have freed up cash, not only in the short term, but also in the medium term, thus helping alleviate pressure on the budget.

So, in reality, the cancellation of T45 reflected the reality of a Department desperately trying to save funding across a variety of budgetary areas. Not just in procurement, but support, manpower, training, and all the other aspects of vessel procurement. The potential package of savings accrued could easily have meant the difference between cancelling multiple projects, possibly impacting on current land operations and just cancelling one. In the end, the decision was taken to go for the T45 cancellation.

But why not now?

Let us assume for a moment then that for reasons unknown, the decision is taken tomorrow to order an additional two Type 45 destroyers. The question is, could it be done?

Firstly the question is, where does the money come from? The forward programme has been done on the assumption that no further T45s are to be bought. This means that the RN has to identify where the near to £2 Billion would come from to fund the hulls. Assuming it still takes seven years from lay down to completion (and a further one – two years prior to actually start the process off), that is a very significant new amount of cash to find in the current programme, both in year, and over the next seven years. So, the first question the RN Resources&Planning staff would need to identify is ‘what is to be cut to make this happen’.

HMS DAUNTLESS (Copyright Daily Telegraph)
The next challenge is the issue of cost. Although the unit cost of Type 45s has fallen over time, this is due to economies of scale in producing 6 sets of equipment, plus spares. These savings are likely to be lost with any new builds, as the production lines for much of the equipment could either be shut down, or would need to be restarted. This would incur extra cost to the manufacturer, who would pass it on to the MOD. The only way that the RN is likely to get similar economies of scale again would be if another navy were to order a batch of four hulls, and a follow up order were tagged on for the RN. So, to generate an additional two hulls, the costs would be significantly greater than for the first batch of vessels.

Timing is also a problem – on current timelines it is taking an average of six – seven years from steel cutting through to commissioning. On average it is then taking a further one – two years to bring the vessel to a point where she is deployable as a worked up unit, able to be programmed by HQ NAVY to conduct deployments. If a vessel was ordered tomorrow, the absolute earliest that she would be in service and able to conduct tasking is 2020. The first issue is that the RN will have borne a significant gap (in the region of 10 years) with only six destroyers, so it is hard to justify inserting a further two units in at this point. The second issue is that of fleet age. The rest of the T45 fleet will be somewhere between six and twelve years old. Creating a second batch of two hulls that are significantly younger will be useful in providing more hulls, more capability and more availability now. But, as the T45 fleet gets older and approaches pay off dates, it will be harder to justify the two younger hulls continued service. They will be significantly younger than their sisters, and as the rest of the class pay off, running on a batch of just two hulls will be expensive. The RN tends to quickly dispose of small classes – look at the way that the residual Batch Two Type 22s were quickly sacrificed in the post SDR environment. One would struggle to see the RN retaining two younger T45s, particularly if replacements were inbound. Therefore, any further batch would probably see much less service than the current ones.

In terms of support and manning, providing two additional Type 45s would raise a significant cost and manpower burden on the fleet. The RN has scaled itself to provide spares for six hulls. An additional two hulls means increasing spares by 33% above the existing fleet, which in turn would mean extra funding for parts, supplies, maintenance and munitions. Even basic issues like Sea Viper war shots, helicopter fleets, ammunition for 4.5” guns and the like would need to be increased. The funding for this is not in place at present. It’s not that the RN can’t find this funding, but that it will cost more to fund it than previously expected – this money has to be found from commensurate savings elsewhere.

 'Manning Computer Says No’

Even manning the ships would prove a challenge. By 2020 the RN expects to have a force of roughly 22,000 sailors, and 7500 Royal Marines. Once you remove the submarine service, Fleet Air Arm, and the various support elements, the actual sea going element of the naval service will be quite small. A force of 19 escorts would need approximately 3400 personnel to man them at full capacity (so some 15% of the Naval Service). Adding an extra 380 personnel at all ranks / rates to man two extra Type 45s will increase the total to 3800 personnel – or over 10% increase in manning needs.

This may not sound much, but it would present structural changes to the RN. It’s not just a case of saying ‘here are 380 sailors, make it happen’, it’s a case of providing 380 sailors, then providing them with reliefs, then ensuring capacity for career development, and also for their reliefs to be relieved. Harmony time is crucial – keep someone at sea for too long and they will become burnt out and put their notice in. So, you need to recruit sufficient personnel to ensure people get regular shore drafts, and the opportunity to do broadening tours for career development. It also has an impact on things like branch promotion structures – on the face of it adding two extra hulls with opportunities is great, but where are you going to put the extra personnel when not onboard? How do you maintain a balanced career path, to ensure that the young 18 year old AB joining HMS RALEIGH remains in the service to become a 35 year old CPO in charge of a department?

The RN has reduced its manning requirements since SDSR, and the recruiting taps are only half open. The last time the RN shut recruiting entirely was in the early 1990s, nearly 20 years ago. The effects of this are still being felt in the system now, with a major lack of SNCOs in some areas. The reverse is also true- to crew two additional T45s in the 2020s would need a lot of work now to put people into service to get training, experience, and the rate to man the ship properly. Again, it’s not that it can’t be done, but it would take a lot of time, effort and hard cash to increase recruitment in the right areas – this would be a slow process. It isn’t a case of saying ‘here are two ships go sail them’, it’s an incredibly complex process of trying to work out where you get the 380 people from to not just sail the ships, but fight them, and win, in the most demanding scenarios imaginable.

The easiest way to get more T45s into service? (Copyright navynews)

The final point is perhaps the best reason why it would be near impossible to achieve this. There is simply no room in the construction yards to build two additional Type 45s. As was seen in the award of the MARS tanker project to Korea, the current UK shipbuilding industry is operating at peak capacity – the CVF programme is in pure tonnage terms providing the equivalent of 20 Type 45 destroyers worth of construction. The yards are full with CVF work now, and in a few years’ time will be ramping up to construct Type 26. To inject two additional Type 45s now would throw that programme into disarray as the yards struggle to work out how they can actually build the vessels. It’s not just a case of laying some steel down and a new ship popping up. T45s are built across multiple yards in parts, so it would need all the component yards to work together to fit it into their programme. They’d also need to work out how to take on the extra staff, who would then need to be made redundant later on as the workflow dropped off again. One of the key successes of the terms of business agreement is that the shipyards can plan for an agreed level of work. Adding ships in to this actually throws the plan into confusion as the yards have to resource to a higher level than before, incurring additional costs, and probably delaying both CVF and T26.

It is not impossible to build extra ships. That much is clear – if the willpower is there, then it can be done. But the days of shipyards existing in a short term environment, dependent on the next RN order, whatever it may be, are all but gone. The issue is the preservation of key skills, such as ship design and also high end manufacture of critical components, and doing so in a manner which makes the industry sustainable for the long term, and not the ‘boom and bust’ approach of the last century.

Summary
Reviewing what was written, it’s hard to avoid the impression that this piece feels somewhat negative, an effort to try and explain why ‘computer says no’. But the problem that the MOD has is trying to get itself into a position where it is sustainable and can actually afford to buy what it wants, without losing the industries that it needs to keep it in business for the long haul. Adding two Type 45s into production now sounds brilliant – it would win votes, it would keep supporters of the Navy happy, and the RN would be delighted. The problem is that it would cost an enormous amount of cash, it would cause major manpower problems, and it would threaten to unravel the UK shipbuilding industry as it currently stands.

If Ministers wished to enlarge the RN escort fleet, the easiest way to do so would be by procuring extra Type 26 escorts in due course, and then planning to build more T45 replacements in 20-30 years time. Sadly the days when an extra batch of vessels can just be rustled up are over, no matter how wonderful it would be to see more Type 45s in service.

 One final point. This argument is not exclusive to the RN - any navy in the world seeking to build more ships would find itself facing similar problems




Friday, 10 August 2012

A Daring Deployment - Thoughts on the Type 45 on operations




The MOD announced last week that HMS DARING has returned from her maiden deployment to the Middle East. This highly successful trip allowed the RN to deploy her via the Med, through Suez, and then conduct operations with the US and other coalition partners in the Arabian Gulf. She then conducted wider operations, including a trip to India to demonstrate the vessel to the Indian Navy.

The deployment is good news for several reasons. Firstly, it marks the return of a UK high end AAW capability in the Gulf region. The UK hasn’t sent T42s up in to that area for several years, so it is a significant enhancement to both UK capabilities, and also regional security that the DARING was able to deploy there. It will have been seen as a clear sign by allied nations in the region that the UK is prepared to deploy its most potent military equipment in support of the region.

The deployment provided an excellent chance for the RN to demonstrate to the USN, and other premier naval powers, just how potent the T45 capabilities are. Working as part of a CVBG, the DARING was able to show the potential of the SAMPSON/PAAMS combination, and initial feedback suggests that the USN was impressed by what it saw.

Additionally, the deployment was an excellent opportunity to show off the T45 to a range of nations, both as an influence tool – by demonstrating the potency of the vessel, and UK abilities, but also as a sales device. The visits to nations such as India were an opportunity to provide emerging maritime powers with the chance to see a T45 close up, and get a better indication of how the UK is bringing its future fleet into service. It provides the chance to work with them, and get an idea of their ability to exercise with the UK, which in turn gives an idea of the ability to operate alongside us on operations. Visits like this are immensely important, as they lay the groundwork for future exercise programmes and co-operation.

The RN has spent a long time cultivating its links with the Indian Navy, as seen by the regular series of ‘Konkan’ exercises, which have included naval aviation, SSNs, and high end escorts working together. The visit by DARING continues the trend of providing visible access to the newest and highest quality vessels in the RN fleet. So, from an influence perspective, this deployment has been successful – there is immense interest in the T45 by many nations, so to see one deployed, working and operating in a highly challenging environment such as the Gulf is a major event.

More broadly, the deployment has been a chance to showcase the next generation of RN vessels – there is considerable interest in the T26 design, and its likely that many nations will have taken a close interest in the design, capability and role of DARING as she was deployed. This was a chance to try to increase polite expressions of interest, and in turn, turn it into more tangible financial or other commitments to the T26 project.

The broader signal though, and one that should not be missed, is the fact that DARING was relieved by another T45. It now appears that the RN will be committing a pair of vessels to the Arabian Gulf region until further notice – both a T45, and also a T23. This, coupled with the wider RFA, SSN and MCMV presence means that at any one time, the RN has got potentially a dozen ships in the Arabian Gulf. This hugely capable force is able to respond to the majority of challenges posed in the region, and represents a very potent fleet, with capabilities far beyond most regional navies.

While it is customary to decry the RN as a dying beast, Humphrey would suggest that very few navies can permanently sustain a dozen warships, a few thousand miles from home, on a permanent basis, and still deploy on other operations. Even while the RN is busy in the Arabian Gulf, there are still several warships in the South Atlantic, Caribbean and home waters on live tasking. When one looks at lists of world navies, outside of the USN, it is hard to find any other navy capable of sustaining a balanced force in one geographic area well removed from its home base. Don’t forget that the RN remains an immensely capable force, even if it is smaller than before.

Another key point is the arrival of the T45 as a deployable platform. While the T42s have performed sterling work for many years, they have been past their prime. The fact that two T45s are on deployment, is a sign that the RN is once again able to put high end AAW vessels out on global patrol, and employ them in a high threat environment. In addition to being able to do ASW in the gulf, the RN is now again able to contribute to the AAW battle. This significant uplift in capability will be appreciated by partners, and makes a real difference. It has taken many years to get here, but the RN is finally able to put T45s on to the most challenging operational deployments.

This does come at a cost though – the sight of two 45s on deployment, one returning and the other two still on trials shows that this small fleet of hulls will be worked hard in their lives. The indicator as to how often they’ll be deployed will be when we see where HMS DARING deploys to next. It looks likely that with only 6 hulls, the T45 fleet will be most likely committed to an East of Suez task, and also another task – possibly the ‘Southlant’ task, which now encompasses Africa, Falklands and the West Indies.

The T45 hulls, once they settle into a fully in service programme, will essentially be able to support two, gusting three, tasks at a time. It is worth considering that with an available fleet of five hulls (essentially 2 deployed, 1-2 working up, 1-2 returning/maintenance, 1 deep refit), the RN is going to have to prioritise how it deploys the T45. The RN is unlikely to see much of the much vaunted ‘Carrier Battle Groups’ so desired by internet discussion boards. At best some joint training may be accomplished over the next few years by hulls on work up, but in order to maintain a fairly punishing cycle of one hull East of Suez, and one hull likely to be deployed either on wider task group operations or into the South Atlantic, the RN is unlikely to have capacity to do much more with the T45. The sight of an RN task group, with integral carrier, T45 and T23 frigate is likely to be a rarity – more likely is that a T45 hull will be assigned to the Response Force Task Group (RFTG) and then sent off on a pre-determined task, only coming together for wider out of area deployments for short periods. The chances of having spare hulls to do the sort of ‘Orient Express’, ‘Ocean Wave’ or ‘Taurus 09’ deployments, while still maintaining commitments are near zero. This sort of commitment will come at the price of either gapping tasks, or only token participation.

So, the reality is that the RN has acquired a world class AAW capability and brought it into service with genuinely excellent equipment. The hulls will be worked hard, and as can be seen, it will probably be a case of ‘one in, one out’ at Portsmouth Dockyard with the vessels employed on singleton detachments, or in the case of the Arabian Gulf, employed alongside coalition assets, or occasionally working with RN units.

The loss of the extra hulls originally planned (first 12, then 8) will be keenly felt. Although one could argue that the RN has struggled to generate many T42s for several years now, the fact remains that T45s will be expected to work hard from the start, and that in years to come may start to struggle as their maintenance needs increase. The other challenge will be to using the vessels without the CEC upgrade which has not officially been cancelled, it merely hasn’t been prioritised as a spending need in the current planning round. CEC would have gone a long way to mitigating the reduction of hulls in terms of task group operations, and the RN is likely to regret not having full access to it for some time.

In summary then, its great news for the RN that the T45 is operational, and that the vessels are now integrated into the RN deployment cycle. They represent a step change in capability compared to their predecessors. The challenge comes from the reality that these ships will be worked hard, and will not exist in sufficient numbers to participate in the wider discretionary tasks that more numbers of T42s enabled. The RN will continue to have a world class AAW fleet, but it will probably be operated as a fleet of singletons, and not as a fleet of vessels integrated into wider RN task groups.