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The role of UK defence is merely to provide the lowest credible level of readiness to achieve a defined policy. The problem is that we are unwilling as a country to invest in the delivery of policy, and we end up cutting our armed forces to suit a financial target, rather than spending what the policy requires. Could SDSR 2020 change this ? We can but hope.
So the question is what should be the defined policy – and again, it is not excessive. It has to be the defence of the United Kingdom, its overseas and dependent territories. Some on the left may raise their eyebrows at overseas and dependent territories, but they are legally British subjects, and it is their democratic choice to remain so, and thus a legal requirement for us to defend them.
Our defence that is delivered from the strategic outline and financial support has to be credible against an identifiable threat. We partly deliver that in Europe via NATO. In the mid-80’s we were spending 5.2% of our GDP on defence, we now spend 2.1%. Today we have 20,000 deployable solders in an army of 82,000. 84 fast jets in 7 squadrons, 19 naval escorts. Compare that to 1992 when spending was back at 3.5%, for the Navy alone, that meant 45-50 naval escorts.
3.5% must be Global Britain’s aspiration by 2030. But spending this level of monies, should not mean going back to the level of personnel from those days, it should be about delivering properly equipped and manned formations to achieve our policy objectives.
And in that too, we need to assess the realpolitik of Europe & NATO today, and not spend monies trying to equip & re-fight the Cold War. Firstly Europe needs to do much much more, and it cannot take US assistance for granted. Since 1989, NATO’s borders have shifted a thousand miles to the East. New countries are now in NATO, they have to deliver more into the alliance – both in terms of deploying modern equipment and actual formations for combat land power.
Britain has never been a continental power, we don’t have the manpower, and would not want to re-introduce national conscription to achieve it either. Moreover with near enough full employment, we couldn’t anyway. We must concentrate on delivering effective force where we can, and most effectively we can do this and achieve our wider responsibilities as a maritime power. We have to shift our focus away from trying badly to deliver under equipped Army formations to fight in Eastern Poland or the Baltic States. That role in Central Europe should now fall to France, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Holland, Belgium, Hungary and Romania. Their first role has to be to hold the line in the East, with enough flexibility and reserve formations to deliver an enhanced forward presence.
Using our increased defence expenditure, the UK now needs to look North, and take responsibility for that NATO command, aimed at defending the Greenland, Iceland and UK (GIUK) gap, along with Norway and Sweden. This means more ships, submarines, frigates, anti-submarine aircraft, along with our allies, principally, the Canadian Atlantic forces, Norway and Sweden.
A scaled down British Army (not Army reserve), say, 60,000, but properly equipped and perhaps 40,000 deployable – would have a principle wartime objective of defending Norway and Iceland.
A maritime strategy fits not only UK needs in Northern Europe, but also our global territorial responsibilities as well – say if we had to fight in the Falklands again.
The aim of defending the GIUK gap, is to prevent the Russian submarine force unrestricted access to the North Atlantic, where it could wreak havoc against American reinforcement formations being shipped to Europe.
With the US leaving Europe, and only able to re-deploy at D+45 days notice, new unambitious but realistic choices need to be made. This is not about Pax Americana, or indeed Pax Europa, its about how much the West really cares away its way of life. The Bear and the Dragon are watching. Here’s a thought to focus minds. In 2019, China commissioned more destroyers in one year than we have in the whole Royal Navy…..

Meirion X



Secretary of State for Defence: Ben Wallace (Army)
Minister for Defence Procurement: James Heappey (Army)
Minister for Defence People and Veterans: Johnnie Mercer (Army)
Chief of the Defence Staff: Nick Carter (Army)

The two other junior defence ministers have no service affilation (excluding the Salvation Army).

How would you rate the chances of scaling down the British Army in favour of the RN?

Let’s hope sense prevails, because you can’t keep scaling down every review every time. It isn’t an inter-service zero-sum game, nor should it be treated as such — for all the Treasury might want you to believe otherwise.


I don’t disagree, but I think you mean Denmark and not Sweden for North Atlantic naval deployment. Sweden is not a NATO country (yet).


Yes . Sweden has no blue water navy to speak of.


No I’m inclined not to draw Denmark into a new AFNorth, it is linked on the ground with Germany,should be part of AF Central, and this should also prevent UK ground forces from being drawn away from their principal AO. AFNorth’s defence of Northern Norway has to be built on strict observance of Swedish neutrality or that nations willingness to effectively be our right flank with its ground and air forces.

David Barry

Who is responsible for Greenland?


Denmark / Norway / Sweden control the Baltic. Nothing can get in or out of the Baltic without their ok (explicit or otherwise). Denmak has always considered itself a naval rather than a land based power.


Sweden hasnt been ‘strictly neutral’ even during WW2 , when nazi troop trains were allowed transit. Its better described as ‘neutrality phases’ and it guides their foreign policy as of course nowadays they work with Nato ( but arent a member) , like Sweden sent some fighter jets as part of the Nato campaign in Libya.
So forget the hoary myth of strict neutrality, thats more the Swiss thing


Couldn’t have put it better myself

Barry Larking

Very grateful to you for this excellent summary. However, military planning must be based on more than equipment. Great Britain has never been a major power. Our extraordinary influence on the world has been through ideas, chief among these individual rights, the primacy of law and institutions; we did not as Hollywood believes dominate solely by gunpowder so much as by fountain pens. We gathered an exceptional alliance together in both World Wars and continue to assist and support allies and friendly nations globally. Despite our often too ready to do ourselves down national past time, we ought to reflect on the fact that people are swimming to reach counties run by such as ourselves. That ought to be a useful indicator that we in the west still have the correct political analysis as far as most people are concerned.

Frankly I would put everything on the sea. The late Anthony King, sometime professor of international affairs, suggested that the U.K military should model itself on the U.S. Marine Corps. That is not a bad idea. Our expeditionary skills have been honed from much bitter experience to the point that it is something we do well. Perhaps when western Europe sees the U.S. and U.K. won’t plug the gaps they will sit up. Putin runs a country that is about to prove all over again that having lots of rockets and tanks but empty shops isn’t going to end well. Meanwhile blunt conversations with the Europeans are required.

I applaud reaching out to Israel and we can see astonishing sights now with several Arab states looking at Iran and discovering they have more to gain by being Israel’s friend than not. Recent participation of the I.D.F. in exercises is a signpost. Further a field, the neighbours of China need cultivating; and once more Australia looms large in Pacific planning.

Finally, we need greater common sense in our overseas aid budget, currently running at 14 thousand million a year. Value for money and reciprocal support in the defence sphere should weigh for more. A trimmed budget there could mean more for defence, not least to our vulnerable small allies scattered about the globe.


Some really good points Barry. After a post Cold War phase of assuming the world would get progressively more stable and we could rely on American dominance for global security (the end of ideology and all that) we finally seem to be waking up to the fact that forging alliances and fostering cooperation with a wide spectrum of nations to leverage pressure and guard against others who don’t share our world view and seek to destabilise is essential.

It’s an old game….but fortunately it’s one that Britain has historically been very good at!

Greater harmonization of capabilities and operational goals with Australia, Canada and New Zealand could enhance our position. Bolstering The Five Powers with either serious cooperation or even the full inclusion of India would be very advantageous. Similarly working a lot more closely with Japan makes a lot of sense given the many similarities we share as both being medium level powers and island nations on the periphery of larger continents.

As you say using the aid budget (whether it stays completely separate or folded into the MoD and Foreign Office) more to our own advantage as well as the recipients through things like training which then leads to greater regional stability is also a no-brainer in my view.


Yes. Some very good points, especially about the expeditionary USMC.
Not so sure about the Arab-Iranian points. Arab countries do back Iran, like Iraq, Syria (Assad) and the rebel government in Yemen. Its clearly a millennial long religious divide and centered more these days on Saudi Arabia’s money and the Shia minority in the oil rich Eastern provinces. There isnt really any real connection with Israel


The Gulf states (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE) know they need a strong Israel friend as if Iran is able to take out Israel, they’ll take out the Gulf states next. The Iranian leadership are Shia who have two main goals, one of which is to take over the entire muslim world.


Nah, totally incorrect. The Shia sect is only tiny outside Iran with concentrations in Iraq, Syria Lebanon, Gulf States and Yemen. Its the Wahhabi Saudis who are radicalising the Muslim word. Plus its been millennial long conflict between Persians and Arabs where the religion side hardly matters.


“The Bear and the Dragon are watching”. What century are you living in? My question for you, given that you seem to advocate massive defence spending on the basis of the UK being part of NATO, is what exactly is the purpose of NATO in 2020? The original purpose of the alliance was to prevent a Soviet invasion of western Europe. Even in 1949 this scenario was patently absurd, as the Soviet Union could barely feed itself, let alone look after the Eastern European countries it was responsible for looking after in the aftermath of WW2. Four decades later, the idea of the Soviet Union invading western Europe was demonstrated as being even more absurd, with the country being totally unable to occupy/control even Afghanistan (much like NATO cannot now).

Last time I checked the Soviet Union no longer exists. If the purpose of NATO is to stop the spread of Communism, the top rate of income tax in Russia is 13% which is roughly a third of the level of the UK, so if anything the UK is more of a communist country than Russia is today. Similarly with China, I’m sure it is no accident that Tesla decided to open a factory there (much like other western companies) simply because it is a much easier place to do business than in western Europe or the US.

The idea of Russia or China invading the UK is complete nonsense. There is simply no benefit to projecting power in this day and age. The aggressor of basically every war in the past 50 years has lost from Vietnam, to Afghanistan to Iraq – even against woefully underfunded and underequipped defender nations.

Everything that NATO has touched in the past 20 years, from Serbia to Afghanistan has been a complete failure.

Steve Taylor

I remember on this site or another saying the only ship building the government should support was to build submarines and supporting systems. I was accused of being pro-Russian. That underwater warfare is the one sphere where the Russians are maintaining a good number of decent hulls and developing more seems to pass many by for some reason. Never mind their ‘engineering activities’ on the sea floor. The Russians aren’t coming! Why would? We are doing more than enough to destroy ourselves as it is. Why would they want to take on the extra territory and to what end? The Russians are actually ‘bugging in’ as it were. They are making investments into infrastructure so if Western Europe goes under they won’t be dragged down with us. Are the Russians our enemy? Probably yes, but not in the pantomime villain way the MSM like to push.

Meirion X

Most of the Russian defence Industry is heavily Subsidised by hidden subsidy from the State ownd Oil and Gas industry.
That is why cost of Russian Milltary projects is a fraction of the costs of a comparable Western Defence project.

Steve Taylor

Are you scared that you will wear out this special ability of your’s for stating the obvious?

Meirion X

@Troll S Taylor
I would say, Your special ability as a Kremlin Stooge, is now wearing Thin!
Looks obvious now, isn’t?

Meirion X

Russia is spending much more then the Headline figure of 5.5% of GNP on defense, thorough Hidden Subsidies to it’s mainly State Owned Defense Industry. E.G. SSBNs only costing around $800 Million each to build!
Real Defense spending is More likely around 15% of GNP.

Meirion X

@Troll David
The Soviet Union thrived from SLAVE Labour, and the Taxation of the countrys’ of Eastern Europe.
And FORCED Membership of the Warsaw Pact.

P.S You did Promise last year you would Refine from commenting on this site!


The reason Western companies open up in China is the relative low cost of labour and ease of access to parts etc required in their own processes. If you have ever worked for a Western company in China or any other of the state run Countries in that region you would have known just how many hoops jumps (and brown envelopes) are required to even start never mind continuing to trade. Last time I looked there was peace in Serbia and its neighboring Countries caused by a NATO intervention in a genocidal conflict.

US Guy

Good post, but the US isn’t leaving Europe. If anything our presence in Europe has become more pronounced since Crimea. We just want more countries on the Continent (Germany) to meet their NATO obligations. But despite the occasional tantrum, we aren’t going anywhere.

That extends to the naval front as well, just last year we saw fantastic cooperation and interoperability between the RN and USN, which I think will only strengthen with time.


Could not have put it better myself.


Sooner or later the Chinese and Russian navies are going to hold joint Fleet manoeuvres in the North Atlantic, why not, the Royal Navy and the U.S.Navy will be doing exactly the same in the South China Sea in 2021, unless of course the politicians have lost their bottle by then. Maybe the sight of a solitary River class patrol boat escorting hordes of Communist warships through the English Channel whilst what remains of the Royal Navy is trying to provide a badly equipped under-strength Carrier Task Force around the Far East shadowed by hordes more Chinese destroyers and frigates will focus minds, but I doubt it. The SDSR 20 review can only be another round of cuts in manpower and equipment as long as the NHS is allowed grab any spare cash and bleed this country dry in the process.


Boris Johnson has his majority and we shall see if he fulfills his vision of Britain as a world player or betrays us by further cutting defense. Time will tell if he’s another Cameron.


Hello Rick, I guess you are American, We spell it Defence. We also respect the Majority here, unless you might be one of those Re Moaners who can’t spell.


From the feel I get , Russia is as worried about China as everyone else. Putin is many things – stupid is not one of them. NATO, while still important, is not where the action is.

There is an arms & power race on in east asia. China is building carriers & making claims in SCS & NCS. Japan is starting to rearm. South Korea, Singapore & Australia are also spending serious money on defence & I am talking high end gear. Just about anyone in east asia with any spare money is spending it on defence. Four major NATO powers have links into the area (USA, UK, France & Canada). Russia, for all its faults, is stil a European power. Most European powers understand Russia. China does not play by European rules.


Very true. Historically, China and Russia have not liked each other, although, sadly, very stupid US and European policy has been driving Russia and China together. This is a very bad occurrence for the UK and western countries. Russia is a European country and has a much more in common with the UK than supposed “allies” like Saudi Arabia.


Does anyone know when it is due


Too early. Really until both Brexit finalised AND there is a free trade agreement with the rest of Europe any budgeting and therefore any planning the British government does is a waste of time and resources.

Phillip Johnson

Entirely correct. Until Brexit is sorted any SDSR has its feet on sand.
Brexit will have a negative effect on the UK economy for at least the first half of this decade and it is very easy to see any minor increases in Defence expenditure totally lost and more by a falling Pound/US$ exchange rate.


Oh no …Project Fear lives on… Germany is barely avoiding a recession, The French economy has an unemployment rate of 8.5% and Italy … who knows how long each government will last.
The UK is well to be rid of that troublesome union.

Bobs Baradur

Duker, I still expect a period of muddle, mutual finger pointing and gnashing of teeth
as various interim and temporary agreements are setup.
For example, I expect changing all the bolts in the RN from metric to whitworth will a take while.


I don’t think Phillip was criticising Brexit as a concept; he was stating something that absolutely everyone (including the ERG and their financial analysts) recognise: The initial few years after Brexit are not going to be good for the economy. He even clearly expects the UK economy to pick up after about 5 years as a result of Brexit, so I’d hardly call him critical, just realistic about the immediate effects. The global economy relies upon stability to really thrive, and there will be no track record or past precedent to make predictions from. People will steer clear and take it slow with the UK immediately after Brexit, and it will also take time to get those free trade deals sorted out. Until then, the UK economy will not perform as anyone would like. The key part about a successful Brexit was always about growing the promised broader opportunities available from not being in the EU, but only after a (hopefully) short painful snap. Anyone telling you that the UK economy will not take some kind of a dip in the few years immediately after Brexit is going against the vast majority of economic projections, including those of the majority of Brexiteers themselves.
That’s what Phillip was talking about, I think he remained very apolitical about the subject of Brexit itself.


Those are meaningless ‘predictions’, mostly because they use spreadsheets rather than understand the economy and the main downwards effect ‘according to the spreadsheets’ is a drop in immigration leads to drop in economic activity and the hoary old one of booms are followed by busts.
However economists have a saying ‘Predicting the future is hard, especially since they cant accurately know what happened in the past.
You seem to be one of those who seem to take short term ‘guesses’ as some sort of lightbulb moment. The reality is there is huge uncertainty in any economic forecasts and often statistically they would do much better if they just said ‘same old’. Indeed the FT reports it
“Economists predict little change for UK growth in 2020”
Dont know where you get your details from but Im sure you ‘think its true’. Ive seen stories that reckon UK, which is level pegging with France in the size of its economy, will leave them behind instead start to catch up on Germany.
Then again they are only ‘predictions’ but you dont seem to have seen the whole picture only the bits that confirm your opinions.


Are you seriously using those two articles to justify your point?
The Spectator one was written in 2013, before there was even any serious talk of a referendum and assumed a place in the EU single market, but not part of the Eurozone- i.e. the single currency. It also assumed we’d be continuing to attract migrant workers to keep our demographics healthy (that bit that you said was some fallacy of economic thought), and that we would continue to grow the economy faster than those of other European countries. Brexit and future immigration policy is in fact designed to reduce immigration, and our industries will be losing their largest single trading partner while not having anything to immediately replace it (unless we get the EU free trade deal on B-day+1 good to go). The predictions in this article can’t really be considered to be reflective of the current situation.
As for the PWC one, in the first paragraph it literally says “The UK’s long-term economic growth could outpace leading EU countries like Germany, France and Italy, even despite some medium-term drag from Brexit, according to new analysis by PwC.” Medium term drag is exactly what Phillip and I were describing! The rest of the report projects this top 10 ranking in 2050 (which is certainly not in the 5 years that Phillip predicted the Brexit pain), assuming that the UK continues to attract skilled immigrants (see my previous paragraph regarding immigration) and energetically pursues growing markets within the E7. That is not going to happen overnight either, hence the “medium-term drag from Brexit” bit in the first paragraph.
Nothing that you have provided from published sources backs up your point, rather they directly contradict it. You dismiss “spreadsheet economics” and short term predictions, without justifying why; you say that the economic predictors of “immigration helps the economy” and “boom follows bust” are old fashioned and outdated, but the articles that you reference for proof actually rely on those very predictors and I’ve yet to see a respected economist (long-term or short-term) who doesn’t subscribe to them. The whole of economic history up until today actually bears them out.
I am not anti-Brexit, but I find it dangerous to assume that there will not be some immediate rough going- even Jacob Rees Mogg doesn’t expect there to be an immediate benefit, based upon what he’s actually said on the public record. If there’s going to be rough going, then we need to make sure that our defence expenditure takes that into account, because if we don’t plan for that then important programmes and capabilities could get cut. The treasury does not take a 50-year view on the defence budget, in case you hadn’t noticed.


If the economy is going to suffer post Brexit, which it may but not for as long as 5 years IMO, then helping to boost the economy by spending on the promised hospitals, infrastructure (HS2!) and defence procurement (by fast tracking F35s, building new frigates etc in the UK!) is one way forward.

Both the main political parties promised in their GE manifestos to increase borrowing levels, justified while interest rates are still at an all time low… cutting defence spending in that climate and having made (general) spending promises would be unacceptable.

If they scrap one of the carriers then **** we may as well drop any pretence of being a player.

For what it’s worth I’m optimistic that the government will move in the right direction.

Julian Edmonds

One other impact of Brexit that’s being overlooked. The end of free movement greatly increases the pool of potential law-breakers. Currently the Border Force only has to catch people in cheap throwaway inflatable boats. From 2021, everyone except the Irish will be required to obtain permission before travelling to the UK and so French, Germans, Dutch etc could be trying to enter illegally. Many of them have expensive, fast, well-equipped yachts. Monitoring and catching them all is going to be way beyond the Border Force’s capacity and need RN involvement.


They will be reciprocal ‘electronic visas’, which for most will give 90 days and multiple visits like the US gives. EU and UK already have similar arrangements for many many countries outside EU. Thats the extent of the ‘permission’, they arent going back to the pre 70s era.

Julian Edmonds

The visas will be refused to people with serious criminal records, who may have served their sentences and been released. And whole ill gotten gains could include said yachts.


Someone who has served their sentence can safely stay in their home country (Germany or France is hardly Syria). If they illegally enter another country, they again become a criminal & risk ending up back inside & said yacht impounded. Smuggling is more likely, but if you are using high speed expensive boats to do it, it is likely illegal on both sides of the channel, Brexit or no Brexit.


As an island nation our priority has to be the Navy first, with the R.A.F. second and the Army third. If anyone wanted to attack us the Royal Navy and R.A.F. would destroy them before they even got to our island. For land powers such as France, Germany, etc. the focus would naturally be more on the Army.

In the long run I would like to see the Royal Navy grown to 8 x Type 26, 8 x Type 31, 8 x Type 45 replacement based on Type 26, 8 x River Class O.P.V.s and 8 x Astute. This relatively modest increase would greatly enhance our Royal Navy without delving into the realms of fantasy.

Meirion X

I think the Royal Navy needs a strength of 9 Type 26, 10 Type 31(GP), 3 Type 31(AAW). 6 Type 45, and 8 x Astute + 6 SSK’s. To fulfil Britain’s status as a maritime power.


We need SSKs back. They are quieter, cheaper, less crew intensive. Just look at the German Type 212 and 216 Submarines. They are even supposed to be getting IDAS missiles – Submarine launched SAMs that will make ASW Helicopters fly for the hills. Corvettes/FACs are also a great idea – use them for an inner layer of Country defense. This country used to have a Coastal Command…you could always re-form it.


Totally agree Sam.


Vidar 36 SSK perhaps


Last I heard all the German submarines were laid up/ undergoing repairs.
I’d increase Astute numbers for deep water operations and develop autonomous SSK’s for coastal and North Sea duties.


SSK are not coming back for Nuclear powers like or US. Indeed the large drone submarine will replace them. The Boeing Orca is around 50 T but is quite small compared the largest UWV which is almost 1100 t


More or less achievable if we start investing on shipyards in England as well as Scotland.


You could just as easily point to the millions that have been wasted on defence projects over the past several decades with little or nothing to show for them at the end. Why hold up the NHS as the cause of our defence issues?

Simon m

I guess the point author was making is the NHS is not being took to task for its waste and despite this huge increases in funding have been granted whilst the MOD are told they can’t have more money unless they are more efficient.
I work in the NHS & there is massive waste, but to be honest the waste comes from central government & not necessarily the staff or organisations with the NHS.
If you compare it with big corporations they don’t let their franchises or sub departments choose what uniforms they have or how to deliver a product or service or what computer systems to use, they therefore buy in bulk getting huge savings and giving a consistent & dictated tested brand efficient service & if it doesn’t work the board is responsible. NHS trusts don’t necessarily have a free for all but it’s close.

To say its not being addressed is not quite true with move to integrate back of house services & provide care in the home. Its just slow & is always on the edge of being ripped up by the next government so they don’t take central responsibility.

If these types of initiatives are being undertaken at the MOD and there are still services it is required to deliver then only fairly it should receive an increase otherwise decisions are almost purely made on cost. This sometimes has longer term repercussions or capability gaps (essentially meaning we are not properly defended against threats.

But because defence is not taken notice of by the electorate, politicians dodge their responsibilities like a careless home/car owner without insurance – it has little effect until you need it.

D Abbott

Sounds great , but I can see pigs flying before an uplift in naval funding occurs

Lee H

Evening All
Global Britain requires the nation to be, at the very least, projecting itself around the world utilising both soft and where appropriate hard power.
The Royal Navy gives the country a unique ability to do that, at low cost, whilst maintaining flexibility – you can move and re-role your sovereign platform as you wish. To do this though you need the right ships doing the right job in the right place. Currently we are still adapting, filling gaps and sending ill-equipped ships to do jobs that they are not suited.
We are still in a position where we do not have enough sailors to man the RN and RFA vessels currently declared as part of the ORBAT.
We have assault ships, designed in the 80’s and equipped in the 90’s taking up large crews laying up along side in Devonport.
We have frigates, destroyers and RFA vessels, awaiting crews or awaiting LEP, laying up along side in Devonport, Portsmouth and Liverpool.
We have a two new programmes to recapitalise the surface frigate fleet, Type 26 and Type 31 at various stages of their CADMID cycle.
We have a submarine at Barrow that is 96% complete but has been for months.
We have OPV’s that are delivered to the customer with bolts glued to the hatchways, amongst other faults.
Doesn’t sound too rosy does it.
But if we flip the coin;
We have CASD, 50 years on patrol.
We have the entry to service of P-8.
We have two carriers at various stages of work up, getting ready to deploy either to the Far East (HMS QE) with 24 F-35B (12 UK and 12 USMC) with a full compliment of escorts.
We finally have the Batch 2 OPV’s being deployed on operations around the world utilising a new approach, keeping the vessel overseas and rotating the crews.
We have a sailor pipeline that is finally on the increase after the scandal that was the 2010 SDSR.
We have world wide presence, in the Gulf, in the Caribbean, in the South Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and soon East of Singapore.
We have the Royal Marines, redefining their role within the new world, moving away from large landing operations back to small Commando strike forces that can operate off any vessel, at short notice, worldwide.
So what does HMG want the RN to provide at the next SDSR, or how does the RN satisfy the needs of HMG through the SDSR?
Does it ask for more manpower – yes
Does it ask for more assets – no
Does it rebalance the fleet towards the new challenges that we face in the 21st century – a new enemy, fighting asymmetrically, fighting in a network enabled environment -yes

To do this, as the author and some below mention sacrifices are going to have to be made.
The government have already stated that the size of the FFG/DDG force is going to increase so let’s help them keep their promise by removing legacy platforms from the fleet and accelerating the introduction of others. Having a vessel along side means nothing if you cannot man it or equip it with the weapons it needs to be effective – you are only putting lives at risk if you put an asset to sea without a trained crew and fully equipped warship. Those ships are not being used now and the fleet planners are managing – wouldn’t it be better to accelerate the T31 programme, accelerate the T26 programme now using the saved RDEL money to get crews trained on the new systems that will be used on these new vessels – simulators can be built and run by 3rd parties and the money therefore can be classed as RDEL (the company is making the capital investment not HMG).
State the increase in T31 from 5 to 8, everyone knows its coming – give certainty to the industry and get the commitment written into law now.
Remove the 2nd LPD and sell it to Brazil who need it and more importantly can afford to man it. Utilise the ideas from Prevail Partners, build new 7500 tonne amphibious vessels that are multi-role in design, are lightly manned and can be re-rolled at will. Each vessel can support an RM RIC (Reinforced Infantry Company) which would include assault craft, rotary lift, mortars, Anti-tank, SHORAD, light artillery and associated C4I support. With just 4 of those vessels and supporting Bay Class ALPD the Corps would be able to deploy a battlegroup as a single mass or have the flexibility to deploy single assets at will to trouble spots around the world. Build them in Belfast. Within this parliament remove the the 2nd LPD as the first new vessel comes on line – it frees up the manpower to HMS PRW.

Make the T45 ABM capable, invest the money in the system and then offer it to the RAF as a GBAD system – common system, common training. GBAD is making a come back, its something lacking from the counter air domain.

Look at reducing 1st of class Astute to training vessel and invest in an 8th Astute (one that isn’t based on HMS Torbay), get a drum beat of deliveries going at Barrow – dual lines of production with SSN continuously improving – removing the need for a total redesign every 20 years (lessons from the 90’s).

Invest in the MCMV fleet, look at the C3 model that was discussed in the early 2000’s and expand it (C1 (T26), C2 (T31), C3 (OPV), C4 (MCMV and utilities)). Designs already exist out there for these vessels – just get on and do it.

Invest in the infrastructure that makes all of this possible, its great having warships, fighter jets et al but if they cannot exchange information securely at at high bandwidth/high speed we will not be able to fully utilise the platforms that we have paid top dollar for.

Invest in the people, they always seem to be forgotten when the arm chair admirals get their maps out and their fantasy fleets – the manpower has to come from somewhere.

I have solutionised a bit, so apologies for that – but my point is, if the RN doesn’t adapt and change it will be left behind, grey ships that are underarmed, poorly equipped and manned by a low moral crew being deployed to all ends of the earth just so the RN can say – “we can”.
Sometimes short term pain delivers long term benefit, accept the pain and move on.

Stray Vector

@Lee H, You’ve got a lot of interesting suggestions that I really like, especially the one one about making the the Type 45 ABM capable. Your idea of having Astute as a training ship is something I haven’t heard of before. What about instead leasing an SSK (ideally with AIP) from one of our NATO partners for that purpose? Might be an opportunity for the RN to get a experience with SSK(+AIP) operation. Instead of selling a LPD, why not transfer it to the RFA, using the RN/RFA complement of Argus when its retired? I think maybe transferring over-the-beach amphib to the RFA might be a good idea since they already live in that space. As for C3 and C4, are your thinking something along the lines of BMT Venari 85* ? Maybe that design fits both requirements. Thoughts?


Lee H

Hi Stray Vector
Many thanks for the below. With regard to (WRT) the LPD to the RFA – its a crew issue, it takes 300 crew to man the platform – numbers the RFA just do not have. Argus doesn’t consume as much manpower and is a simplier platform to manage.
Yes the BMT 85 was what I was thinking of – its a good multi-form platform that could have lots of utilisation throughout the MCMV and hydrographic survey fleets.

Stray Vector

Lee H,
Have to admit I was doing a little fantasy fleet thinking with transferring the LPD to RFA based on using Argus’s RN/RFA crew. If HMAS Choules has a complement of 158 and 70 as RFA Largs Bay, then based on that ratio a LPD manned on an RFA standard would take around 144 total. But your point is well taken; Argus is built to commercial standards and so would require a smaller complement.


Accelerating T26 and T31 programmes will be difficult if not impossible. Both are subject to facility constraints (Govan will struggle to build T26 quicker, limited by outside hardstanding and fab shed bay capacity) and Rosyth has not yet built the infrastructure to allow it to build T31, let alone accelerate it. The schedule for T31 – such as is available – suggests that there will be at least 2, more likely 3 T31 in Rosyth at any one time from 2024 to 2027.

As for building in Belfast, do not conflate a large hole in the ground and a couple of picturesque cranes with a shipbuilding facility. There is neither the fabrication capacity nor manpower there to attempt anything like a build.

Lee H

Hi N-a-B
Fully understand the constraints at Govan – but they can outsource to other facilities within the BAES estate (Barrow and Portsmouth) for parts that can be pre-fabricated. WRT to Type 31, whilst I understand the T31 infrastructure “demands” this doesn’t stop the simulators et al for all the new technologies that will be deployed (new radars, new mission system etc), getting the sailors ready now means that when ths ship finally hits the water work up to IOC will be alot quicker.
I challenge Belfast and other yards around the UK to meet the challenge – they want the work, the Prevail Multi Role Vessel* isn’t a complex warship so should be an ideal opportunity to expand the shipbuilding capacity in the UK – especailly with a Global Britain outlook.


No – they can’t outsource. Barrow is toppers with submarine construction – so much so that it is even outsourcing some of that to Cammell Laird. Portsmouth ship factory is no longer a BAE facility and even were it to be so, all the fabrication equipment was removed six years ago.

Belfast is not and has not been a shipyard for twenty years. The vast majority of fabrication facilities were flattened in the early noughties for the Titanic Quarter.

Nor is Prevail a real design. It’s a concept that the nice lads in Houlder have designed for the ex-RM type who runs prevail. You don’t expand UK shipbuilding based on a concept. The last time that was tried was the Bays (Schelde Enforcer concept) and that went well didn’t it?

Lee H

Hi N-a-B
Many thanks for the reply and the updates on the state of UK ship building facilities. WRT your statement on CL, now the RMS Boaty McBoat Face has completed build there must be capacity there – what about the capacity now freed up with the completion of the two carriers? Hopefully someone within the UK Ship Building arena (outside of the unions) must be looking to invest in the yards et al especially if the work was to appear?
WRT Prevail, a concept that needs to be evolved granted, but unless we start from somewhere we won’t get anywhere. The User has a need, a first design concept has been drawn up, we either evolve the design and mature it with the user or we don’t satisfy the user requirement and we continue to improvise, adapt and overcome.
The Amphibious element of the RN was at DSEI 19 explaining how they thought they needed to evolve to meet the future challenges – Prevail were there – but so were a variety of other companies, are we saying that we cannot even think to meet the user need, or are we saying we need government to support the user and industry in making the first step?


Cammell Laird have taken a real bath on SDA. She’s only just started her main generators, when from memory, she was due to have done sea trials middle of last year. Not unexpected, given she’s the first real ship built by Lairds since HMS Campbeltown in the late 80s. However, it isn’t going to encourage people to put complex ships there, irrespective of who’s fault it is.

There is a LOT less capacity “freed up” by the completion of the carriers than people think. In terms of technical manpower, T26 and T31 are hoovering up every warm body in the UK – those that aren’t are either going to Aus or Canada for their T26 programmes or being grabbed for the EDP contract. Dreadnought is also desperate for anyone who has a vague resemblance to a design engineer. I haven’t even mentioned Project Napier (aka T45 P&P fix) which will take plenty of BAES and BMT bodies.

On the production side you have to remember that the carriers were built by five yards and assembled by a sixth (Rosyth). Of those five yards, two are now defunct (Appledore and Portsmouth), one is at capacity with T26 (Govan) and only the other two (Lairds and Hebburn) have any capacity. Trouble is that CL have a fair bit of Dreadnought work from Barrow and Hebburn has only a few staff. The real heavy lifting on carrier in terms of block build was done at Portsmouth and Govan – neither of which are now available – for very different reasons. Rosyth – which won’t have a real build capability until they get their new shed – will be strapped to do T31 to the published timescale, even if their new shed is built on time.

On Prevail – first you have to get real technical capability to do the design (see above re technical manpower constraints at the minute) and while Houlder are good, their speciality at the minute is doing “advice” for MoD. That may preclude them working on supply. Same applies to the other little consultancies who’ve done Powerpoint. If you solve that, then you have to find somewhere to actually build it.

The UK build industry is sadly fragmented – lots of bits here and there and despite what Sir John Parker suggested, distributed assembly is something you tend to do as last resort, rather than choice. Someone might invest, but they’d need to be highly capitalised – and as the most important part of SJPs strategy (ring-fenced cash budgets for ship programmes) has not been implemented, that’s a big ask, low interest rates or not.

Steve Taylor

I see Not A Boffin got a down vote which I have cancelled out.

He works in ship building. He has forgotten more about how to screw a warship together than most here will ever know.

Meirion X

I do agree that construction of the Type 26 at Govan would be difficult to accelerate.
But will not Scotstoun be idle after completion of the fitting-out of the last of River OPV’s in early 2021? If so, is it possible that some of the modules of the Type 26 can be constructed at Scotstoun?

I also think the fitting-out period of 3.5 years is too long, and could be speeded up.


Given that the fabrication shed at Scotstoun was flattened some years ago, that’s probably not a runner. I would agree that 3.5 years fitting out (or outfitting, inspection, test and commissioning as it actually is) is a bit long. But that is a limit imposed by the number of outfit trades and T&C staff they can support on the Clyde.


If this is really as fast as Govan can manage, perhaps the second batch of Type 26s should be delayed for two years, while the Scotstoun “frigate factory” facilities are built to be able to produce ships more cheaply and quickly. BAEs hit the export jackpot with the Type 26, and it would be nice to see some of that money ploughed back. B3 Rivers (properly thought through this time) can sustain Govan until the factory is complete.
It’ll also leave BAEs in a position to make a higher quality bid for the Type 4X in the mid 2030s.


If Mr Babcock invests the rumoured £50M in Rosyth to allow them to build T31, that’s a lot of investment for a five ship (possibly a couple more) contract. The timing is wrong for them to do FSS (it would have to be in parallel for which there won’t be capacity), but the timing is bang on for having a crack at the Batch 2 T26 contract.

Which is why the Araldite mafia should be afraid, very afraid. They’ll struggle to play the Porridge Wog card on that one.

Wouldn’t hang my hat on a T4X much before the late thirties either….


Doesn’t BAEs own the design though?

£250m a year is TOBA level, and UK can afford an annual build of a minimum spec T31 indefinitely. Operating and crewing them full life would be nuts, being 30-35 hulls. But UK Plc could afford to sell them early, even at a nominal loss when the >40% tax income is taken into account. The MoD may be gambling there’ll be takers for a £90m 6,000 ton frigate with only 11 years on the clock.

So perhaps the number of type 31s run by the RN will be determined by a sell-off date, say ten years (plus one working up), with one being bought every year, giving a constantly updated, high-availability ship with an evolving spec like the Arleigh Burkes.

Price pressure on BAEs would be a bonus.

HMS Clyde showed 10 years continual forward basing is realistic. Reports that Brazil won’t take her after all, shows the gamble’s downside.


BAE will “own” the design for export use. For UK use, MoD will have free user rights (ie the ability to offer it to another UK contractor), given the £200M or so of MoD funds spent developing it…….

The selling young ships argument is often trotted out. Unfortunately, when you go to the Treasury for more money, they tend to ask awkward questions like “why do you need £X for a new ship. Can’t you run the existing one on?” See long-visible T23/T26 car-crash for details……


I think the upcoming SDSR will see small increases in spending to try and plug the black hole but otherwise will only offer small adjustments here and there, robbing from Peter to pay Paul with none of the drastic root and branch reforms some parts of the MoD needs, but plenty of the usual buzz words and empty rhetoric suggesting otherwise.

Unlike The Army (where some brutally honest discussions need to be had over it’s wider role, the failure to rationalize and procure new vehicle fleets and why a large number of infantry battalions will sit languishing without supporting arms) i actually think the Royal Navy is demonstrating that it’s busy around the world, using it’s manpower effectively and has a reasonably good plan for the future.

A maritime led doctrine should be the focus with defence of the GIUK Gap and reinforcement of Norway as the the UK based priorities and a fully fledged carrier/amphibious group represent the primary means of global power projection.

A multi-tiered surface fleet and more forward deployments are both smart moves. River’s to provide presence and engagement in the low threat environments around The UK, West Indies and South Atlantic, T31’s to contribute to ongoing, multinational maritime security ops in The Gulf and Indian Ocean as well as cooperating with allied partners out of Singapore and the T26’s/T45’s to operate in their primary roles as part of the carrier group.

It just all requires more investment, a faster tempo of frigate construction and a genuinely joined-up, considered shipbuilding strategy.

A lot of relatively smaller, quicker wins could be explored as well. Off the shelf drones would massively expand the fleets surveillance options and dipping sonars for Wildcat would do likewise for the increasingly important anti-submarine capability. A couple of merchant vessel conversions (along the Littoral Strike Ship concept) to act as mother ship/sea bases would massively help to free up the Bay’s for their primary amphibious role.


I remember the 1981 Review by a Conservative Government that had sworn to increase naval spending and increase the navy in their election manifesto. It resulted in slashing 30 escorts and reduced spending on new systems and weapons. Is Cummings another John Nott?


Slightly off beam perhaps but I assume a large part of the defence black hole will be the money necessary to safely dispose of the decomissioned nuclear subs. There must be more than a dozen. I think I read that disposal will cost billions.

Perhaps moving the cost out of the core MOD budget and into a separate fund like that for decommissioning old nuclear power stations would help, especialy with a promise to fund it properly.

We can’t allow these hulks to rust into a truly unsafe state and getting the cost off the core MOD budget helps with long term finance planning.

Does anyone know what the plans are for these subs?


Cost of the decommissioned boats is not really an issue – and certainly not of black hole proportions. They are regularly surveyed and their hulls maintained once defueled and the cost of that is very low. However, there is now an issue with space at Devonport (in particular) and Rosyth – in essence we have 6 Valiant/Dreadnought, 4 R-class Bombers, 6 S-boats and 4 T-boats, with another 3 T-boats in the next few years and then 4 V-class bombers to come. There simply isn’t space to keep them afloat, so they have to do something. The something is outlined here :

Matthew Edworthy

Thanks N.a.B. The report you refer to says that ” Disposal of the eventual total of 27 boats will cost at least £10.4bn over 25 years and continue into the 2040s”. ‘At least’ will mean it is £20billion plus but that is spread of 25 years.

So yes, you are right that in the big scheme of things, this is not a cost that will address a large proportion of the MOD blackhole. However, I think we need to bite the bullet and get the disposals underway to free up space, but also because it is also the right thing to do. Thanks for the info.


I agree the Defence Budget must be increased to a more realistic 3% (we can afford it), especially if we keep the current status quo of CASD, pensions etc within the core budget. However, I don’t think the Navy should get the significant proportion of the budget at the expense of the other services. After the drastic cuts in 2010, all three services are scrimping the bottom of the barrel to achieve any level of productivity.
A lot has been said about dropping the numbers of the Army. Any lower would basically make them undeployable. At the moment there are just about sufficient numbers of infantry (protected by the cap badge mafia). However, to put them in the field and support them is where we are seriously lacking. The deployment to Afghanistan has a lot of blame here, as again we didn’t deploy enough boots on the ground, but managed to cut all the loggies, signallers, air defence troops and pioneers along with their equipment to pay for it. A lot has been said about the strike brigade focused around the Boxer, but it will be lightly armed relying on dismounts for fire support, it is being mixed with Ajax, a tracked vehicle that requires its own transporter, they will have to use a tracked air defence vehicle, engineering vehicle and bridgelayer. In short a grand scheme that has no in-depth support. This is a major problem, as we don’t have enough heavy lift transporters for the Ajax, let alone Challenger and AS 90. So whilst the Boxers are self-deploying, the Ajaxs will be left behind at the docks waiting on transportation.
It’s the same within the RAF, they cut back on the training Sqns to focus on the front line first principle. Now there’s not enough pilots for the aircraft we have, let alone the new ones like Poseidon. Equipment wise Typhoon has been held back by internal squabbling between the partner Nations and a lacking of funding for key performance enhancements. Granted the aircraft is still up among the best in-service at the moment. But soon with the Chinese and Russian Stealth enhanced aircraft such as the J20 and Su57 coming into service, it will struggle to keep up.
The biggest issue facing all three services is the level of currently available manpower. There’s obviously the fiasco with recruitment by using a private firm. But we also have the problem of retaining experience personnel. There’s very little on offer unless you’re a fulfil a role that is niche. I think this is where a lot of the focus should be placed. The three services need a dramatic uplift in manpower. Where we can at least man the ships we currently have, but also to make sure there’s plenty of personnel for rotation. Before we look at fleet expansion etc, we need to get the foundations correct i.e. scrapping recruitment privatisation, not short cutting the time it takes to train recruits and a better incentive to stay in. The servicemen who leave the service to go into industry bring with a unique set of skills. More should be made of what these people bring to the Nation’s prosperity in industry and the service sector. Personally a lot of the issues have come from privatisation of certain jobs and roles within the three services. Perhaps its time we took a long hard look at what privatisation actually brings to the table and how inflexible and costly it actually is?

Barry Larking

You make a very good point about personnel. I have felt for along time the issue is poor people management. Also a lack of creativity. ‘Hands on’ kind of weekends and attractive training deals. Retention is another word for valuing people for themselves. Many people in the HR game are lacking in the ‘human’ dimension.

Steve Taylor

I would just keep what we have. One of the biggest problems defence faces is politicians. Leave it all alone for 10 years.

I would cancel T31 as it sits though and replace that with a buy of Holland class OPV’s. It is the only way you will get 5 hulls for the budget.

The Army is a mess. Strike brigades with no fire power. Battalions for training overseas forces? Artillery at breaking point.

I wish people would stop using the term General Purpose. All our escorts have been General Purpose since T12(M). We did away with single purpose ships like T41, T61, and T12 back in the fifties……..Then brought it back with T45……. 🙂

Down vote away as you so wish.


Can’t disagree on The Army. The question is whether anyone can breach the wall the ‘cap-badge mafia’ have put around the idea of cutting anymore infantry units. They won’t be able to pursue genuine reform and carve out a distinct role until x number of infantry battalions can be scrapped to bring the remainder back to full strength and swap some of that headcount for a lot of the enabler supporting arms lost in 2010.

When people say ‘general purpose’ they essentially mean lightly armed! It annoys me as well.

Out of interest what do think we’d gain by building Holland Class vessels instead of the planned T31? Were those built for the Dutch Navy that much cheaper than the (admittedly projected) budget for T31? Are they that better armed and equipped than what we are likely to see as it stands?

Steve Taylor

General purpose meant they could do ‘something’ against an opponent in all spheres. Saying that the single air defence purpose frigates all had a decent for their time ASW fit out and the T12’s has AA cannon. The only difference between the two groups of T23 is 2087. And what annoys 2087 really is cheap relatively that really all hulls could have it had. The MoD has more than 8 2087 sets anyway……. That’s the problem with T45 in that it isn’t a full replacement for T42. In terms of AAW yes as SeaViper is an awesome system. But T42 could do decent basic ASW. It carried the same sonar at the T22 frigates. T42 crews won ASW competitions. T42 have their detractors but they were good ships and did sterling work. They were a true escort. T45 is, thanks to SeaViper, and its lack of decent ASW fit out is really a HVU something itself that needs to be escorted; a specialist aerospace defence ship if you will, a mini-aircraft carrier where the aircraft can’t come back! I see escort systems in terms of reach, local and area. So where a destroyer will have an area AAW system and local ASW capability, a frigate will have area ASW and local AAW. A sloop like T31 would have local AAW and local ASW. All escorts need a gun for willy waving. And some AShM missiles which are cheap as a part of a whole. As good as SeaViper is T45 the ship is a mess. We should have gone with a stretched Horizon gas turbines or diesels. I sometimes wonder if we should have just bought Aegis. I think the Australians are getting better deal with the Hobarts. The RN would have been better of with 9 similar ships.

Why the Hollands? I am not sure the case for T31 or its budget. We went with the right ship. I am an actual fan of the design it is very sensible. And in another era with a decent budget 12 of them properly would have been wonderful. But 5 of them on such a tight budget? Go look up how much the sister Absalon cost back in 2005-ish and look at our budget for twice the ship 15 years on. If we are forward basing and looking to influence the shipping routes across the Indian Ocean we will need ships at both ends: Gulf and Singapore / Oz we won’t need range as such we need numbers. Hollands are about £150m a copy. If we needed something to keep up with the carriers we would have been better off buying another T26. Are we building to fight WW3 or building for ‘less than war’ crisis where again numbers and sensors count? All Western ships are under armed I suppose, but 99.9999999% it is sensors in peace time that matter and having many sensor platforms. A Holland with its modular sensor mast is ideal.

Meirion X

The Type 23 frigates have rafted machinery to dampen noise from the hull, which enables them a specialized role of hunting submarines.

Steve Taylor

Get away! You will be telling me next they have diesel electric and fixed pitch propellers!!!!!

Wow. Thanks for the insight.

Meirion X

Yes they Do?
Have a look for yourself, below!

Diesel-electric generaters

T23 Frigate Propeller

Steve Taylor

Lord save us.

Meirion X

The Holland Class are Not frigates, they are OPVs!
They where built with No air defence missile system at all.
As you say, surveillance only.
They would be useless as a General Propose Frigate, for the Royal Navy, which is the reason the MoD are procuring the Type 31 with Sea Ceptor etc.

Steve Taylor

Who said they weren’t OPV’s? Your super power is stating the obvious isn’t it? Well done Capt Obvious! We salute your profound insights into naval warfare!

Captain Nemo

I don’t think it’s fair to expect the army to take the hit again, it’s not actively petitioning for an increase in numbers, nor is it attempting to rebuild BAOR, what it is doing is asking for a refresh of its kit (which is long overdue) whilst attempting to reposition itself away from a two decades old COIN legacy and towards potential peer conflict. It is investing in medium weight capabilities that enable a global expeditionary capability as well as a rapid reinforcement of Europe, it’s not an either or; historically too our defence outlook has always been expeditionary in nature, it’s not an argument exclusive to the navy.
I’d add that what the army is also doing is most of the dying and I think we owe it its turn.

Overall I’m hoping not much happens in SDSR 2020 aside from getting our house in order, I think the army would probably benefit from a little rationalisation, maybe it could afford to lose a handful of thousands and the navy could use a handful of thousands, RAF samey, size wise I think we’re pretty much out of options.
Hull numbers, if we show we can do without them, even for twenty minutes, we don’t get them back, it’s that simple.
Boris hasn’t really shown any interest in defence, I don’t think it’s his thing, but I’d guess Dominic wouldn’t be allowed to go after the carriers, wouldn’t sit well with the PM’s core voters next to a global agenda, what he can (and will) do is take a run up at the MOD, which might prove entertaining.

Lee H

Hi Captain Nemo
I don’t think the Army will be hit this time around, they haven’t got the critical mass (manpower) anyway – however they should be looking at removing equipment from the ORBAT (holding them at Ashchurch or any other facility is just a waste) that they cannot man in time of need. You only have to look at how difficult it is to keep a small under equipped battlegroup in the Baltics operational shows how difficult the Army is finding it to mainstain, sustain, adapt and grow.
The Army, like the other services, need to work out where they sit with regards to the requirements of HMG and the up coming SDSR.
Once they have worked out who they are and how they are going to meet the defence mission (against the 8 current defence missions) they need to stick to a plan – be it Army 2020, Army 225 or Army 20xx.

Don’t under estimate Boris and his views on Defence. He knows he needs it, it serves him well overseas and instills pride in the voters – voters he wants to keep on side.
Dominic isn’t going after the carriers, what he is saying is that the days of spending huge amounts of cash for large capital projects where the outcome isn’t fully understood are gone. All options to generate the effect required should be on the table – hard power kenetic effect is no longer the only weapon in the arsenal.
CUMMINGS wants outcomes, he doesn’t want single service vanity projects that consume most of aservice, to the detriment of other parts of that service, to deliver it – yes it will be entertaining and yes the excuses are being formed and the lobbyists lined up already.
These are questions that politicians should have been asking for years but are always too afraid to stick their head above the parapit for fear of being called: Unpatriotic, cowardly, retreating from the world, not listening to the advice of professionals, lacking of understanding of all things military etc.
The MoD and the services should be challenged every step of the way in the capabilities they choose to develop to support the defence mission(s). We wouldn’t have the BOXER fiasco for example where we have gone full circle in the procurement of a vehicle that were an original partner during the concept and development phase.


I was reading an old aviation magazine the other day dating from the ‘1957 SDR’ and its huge cuts. The RAF manpower at the time was 220,000 which included 70,000 national Service ( which was to be phased out).
I seem to remember the RN didnt use National Service to that extent but I dont know the numbers in the Army in 1957.


I just think we need to face facts that over the last 25 years we have continually cut defence spending, delayed projects, had meaningless SDR which were spending cuts by another name and how now reached the point of no return.

The infrastructure to build and maintain larger forces is not there ,the assets we have are either worn out or insufficient numbers ,there is no longer a career path in the armed forces and there are zero votes in defence.

Within 10 years both carriers will be gone and the RN will be reduced to Brown water status ,the army will be only capable of being home defence force and the RAF will struggle to police the uk airspace.

It is truly over because we no longer have the will or the vision to have armed forces.


This is probably an accurate description of the future of Britain’s defence forces. The are some positive voices about reform within the government, however the system has become so corrupt and inefficient that it would be very difficult to turn around. Some ways to halt decline of the Navy (even in the context of a stagnant or declining budget would be).

– Nationalise or force the break up of BAE Systems.
– Pass a law banning defence personnel from taking jobs in contractors after retiring.
– Take a chainsaw to bloated and top-heavy structure (Navy believed to have 34 admirals and less than 10 working warships). Should really be no more than 2-3 Admirals based on current size.
– Need to end gold plating of equipment purchases and invest savings in adequate training and personnel. Examples would be instead of buying massive nuclear submarines, buy diesel electric submarines a third of the size and probably less than 10% of the cost. Recognise that buying huge surface warships fitted with loads of expensive gadgets is probably a waste of time (very difficult to protect against submarines and aircraft). Huge aircraft carriers and world’s most expensive fighter aircraft also unaffordable. If you did decide you wanted aircraft carriers you would need something smaller and a more affordable aircraft.

Captain Nemo

Hi Lee,
Regarding GBAD (in your original post) we could hand over an aster first stage booster to Nammo and see what they can make of it, if they can include their ramjet it would extend Aster’s range to about 400km, right on the edge of T45’s radar range and a simple plug in upgrade for all the darts.
RAF GBAD could then cover the whole UK as well as providing theatre air defence for the army.
I’d say it also sounds relatively cheap.

Lee H

Hi Captain Nemo
Absolutely, it is now whether the UK MoD (RAF) have the ambition and character to do things like what you are suggesting or they “bottle it” and go down the PAC-3 route, either way I think UKGBAD is back on the agenda and will be looked at during the next SDSR. Upgrading the T45 to BMD is a first early step and de-risks any process moving forward.
I believe we are moving back to a tiered approach to with wider Air Defence (AD) arena, we are currently one of the only NATO countries who have not invested sufficiently in theatre AD relying on SHORAD and manned aircraft or allies to fill that gap.

Captain Nemo

I think the army missed a trick with Sky Sabre, rather than developing a truck mounted MLRS (along the lines of the Korean Chunmoo) with the ability to attack both air and land targets, they’re going to have to entertain two systems, thus halving the potential of each and ensuring we never have enough.
We could introduce a developed Sky Sabre for the army and push the existing system back to the six RAF field squadrons in batteries of four, then look to add a SAMP/T battery for area denial and if I were to get really excitable a battery of Thales Rapidfire.
Then maybe people would say nice things about the RAF regiment 🙂

Stray Vector

Ugh! Basically enough to give HMS Queen Elizabeth a decent escort but do absolutely nothing else, including protecting CASD or shipping in the Gulf. Hopefully things will look better later in 2020 as ships come out out engine repair and LIFEX.


Thanks, even worse than I thought!

Meirion X

I think there is a mistake in the listing for HMS Iron Duke? The graphic indicates that Iron Duke will receive PGMU, which I don’t think that is the case. HMS Iron Duke is a GP frigate, Not the ASW type with TAS.
It is more likely that HMS Kent will receive PGMU.
Could you confirm this fact please?


Isn’t it time we started to plan in detail the navy’s needs and requirements over the next 15 to 20 years with funding put in place to follow through what’s required. We’ve had enough of the cut cut years and look forward to Brexit with new eyes.

Ship building needs to have a steady programme of work ahead them, so the plants can become as modern as possible. Cost would then start going down or at the very least stable.
What can the factories produce over the next 20 years?

We will now have two frigate factory’s in Scotland, one producing a F31 every 15 months and the other producing F26s and possibly T4x after every 2 years. Also a submarine plant at barrow with a ship built every 3 years?
F31 factory could produce 16 ships in 20 years each with a shelf life of 15 years before being sold on and with no more than 4 others built for export. Royal Navy could takes advantage and take 10 to increase it’s escorts by 5.
F26 factory would produce 10 ships ( 8 F26 and 2 D46 ) All for the Royal Navy.
Submarine factory would need to up it’s production rate from it’s current rate 6 3/4 boats to 8 boats for the next 20 years. This would give the Royal Navy one extra boat.
These are already known costs plus inflation and should be programmed in.

We would also need another factory to build the 3 no fleet solid supply ships ( 3 years each ) Also a replacement of Argus ( 18 months ) followed by of Bulwark and Albion replacements ( 3 years each) . We still require smaller ships to be replaced.

This shows that there is plenty of shipbuilding required over the next 20 years and the government should be able to budget easily and more importantly find the funds.

We will still need extra money for new aircraft and new equipment for the fleet, but if the MOD planned this far ahead, money wouldn’t be wasted and go a lot further.

Steve Taylor

The next 20 years have been planned for. It’s Type 26, Dreadnought, F35b, and hopefully SSN(R).

Without a serious upswing in budget and manning what we have now is what we have got.

The only possible variable I can see is a sudden need for more patrol vessels post Brexit. I should imagine that won’t stretch to more than 6 to 8 hulls and those will be whatever the market throws up in terms of trawlers, tugs, etc. equipped with few nice biggish RIB’s too.

The RN is desperate need of helicopters before it builds any extra unplanned major combat vessels. It will be interesting to see them wrangling more than one Merlin on a T26.


The RN ordered 44 HMA1 merlins ( the AS version) and 28 HMA2 Wildcats. Thats more than enough including attrition reserves. They probably have half of that operational for financial reasons

Steve Taylor

Are you sure? Because if you think that’s enough you are pretty much on your own.


There are 30 HMA2 Merlins, from which one has to provide a training squadron (824), ships flights for TA-equipped frigates (8 ships – probably less cabs – on 814NAS) and then ASW and AEW aircraft for QEC, often quoted as being between 10 and 14 cabs (820NAS). Of those 30 cabs, the forward fleet (ie those not in depth maintenance or in trials units at Boscombe Down) is 18 aircraft. There is no attrition reserve as such. Those numbers don’t add up.

Of the 44 built, 6 have been written-off or deregistered and 8 (not converted to HMA2 and xmas-treed to help the HC4 programme) are in deep storage. They’d be better off buying new cabs.

The Commando Merlin are not suitable for either ASW or AEW roles and there’s only 22 of them, so ~16 in the forward fleet.

The Wildcat fulfils different roles and is not a substitute for Merlin.

Stray Vector


What do you mean by “x-mas treed”?


Stripped for spares. In this case, the folding rotor heads among other things.

Stray Vector

Thank you, N-a-B. You’ve provided A LOT of very interesting information and insight to this thread.


Wildcat has the same Stingray torpedoes, it has a surface search radar, can have the Sea Venom and Martlet anti ship missiles and a ASW dipping sonar. Merlin has longer range but is it really different roles like you suggest back in 2015 breakdown of the Merlin and even then they had 12 in ‘deep storage’ Thats often what ‘Xmas tree’ means as well.
This outline suggests the dipping sonar didnt make the final cut but as Korea is having them in its Wildcats its a possibility


There is a photo of the inside of a South Korean Wildcat floating around the internet somewhere, fitting the dipping sonar looks like it makes the helicopter somewhat single role (unless accompanied with the optional extra tardis pack for payload).


The fate of “the 12” can be seen here.

They’re all HM1 standard (the ones not at Boscombe are likely to be disposed of shortly as they’re now deregistered from the MAR) and would need a lot of money spending to bring them up to standard. Better to do it with new cabs.

Wildcat can’t do the same role as a Merlin (irrespective of what the RoK are doing). It’s legs are not long enough to do localisation (with a dipping sonar) and prosecution (with multiple Stingray) at the sort of range you want.


There are NO frigate factories in Scotland or anywhere else at the minute. Govan is not a factory – it’s the remnants of a commercial yard (and prior to that Fairfields) which is trying to build T26 in a very cramped space. The Rosyth facility will be a build hall – for which the launch method is as yet not in the public domain.

Generally, people mistakenly conflate shipbuilding with production-line factories. They’re not. They build a (very) few similar products over a decade or more. FSS – if the good ideas club ever leave it alone will take about 5 years to build for the first of class, a little less for the one or two subsequent ships. That doesn’t need a factory, it needs an efficient shipyard – one that doesn’t currently exist (nor planned) in the UK.

The single most important recommendation of Sir John Parkers shipbuilding strategy was to ring-fence capital budgets for these major projects. It has not happened, because the Treasury will not relinquish that sort of control. You should be aware that HMT is also asking all departments to identify 5% cuts in spending, so I’d adjust your expectations accordingly.

Captain Nemo

Yes I saw that, but there’s no way they can apply it to defence that I can see as it’s basically overruled by 2% GDP and all parties have committed to that.
They could ask for 5% in efficiencies and perhaps those could be met, but they’d still have to top the budget back up because defence is sitting right on that line.
Well… maybe they could demand 5% to meet the predicted overspend.


GDP goes down as well as up……..

Captain Nemo

Yes, I know, it circles every time the 2% is mentioned, that, exchange rates and defence inflation.
What they’re asking for is 5% irrespective, as someone else pointed out throwing an arbitrary figure about is ridiculous, it takes no account of individual departments, their needs or how well they run their business.


All they have to do is identify something else that’s related to defence but isn’t currently in the defence budget, like police anti-terrorism units or communication satellites or something in cyber, and add its budget to the calculation of headline defence-related spend. They’ve been doing it for the last ten years to get over the 2% commitment, and there’s no reason they’ll stop if they want to cut core spending further. This Prime Minister isn’t known for his scrupulous application of statistics.


But we don’t spend 2% of GDP on defence once you strip out all the things Osborne and hammond shoved into the defence budget like pensions ,Vanguard replacement MI5/MI6 and GCHQ costs we spent 1.67% of GDP .

We need to face facts we cannot afford to do the things we want and the sooner we do the better for everyone


Exactly so, about the figures. Except I made it 1.84% in 2018/19 (£38.06bn discretionary spend vs £2070bn GDP). I don’t agree about what we can afford.

It’s virtually impossible to come to an agreed on figure once the Treasury abandons a reasonable standard in favour of fanstasy reporting. Which is why the manipulation of statistics has to stop and the headline figure revert to the pre-2007 method.

Meirion X

I think You mean Front-line defence, of which I agree is Not 2% of GNP.


Isn’t it time we started to plan in detail the navy’s needs and requirements over the next 15 to 20 years with funding put in place to follow through what’s required. We’ve had enough of cut cut cut.
Ship building needs to have a steady programme of work ahead so the plants can become as modern as possible. Cost would then being going down or at the very least stable.
What can the factories produce over the next 20 years?

We will now have two frigate factory’s in Scotland, one producing a F31 every 15 months and the other producing F26s and possibly T4x after every 2 years. Also a submarine plant at barrow with a ship built every 3 years?
F31 factory would produce 16 ships in 20 years each with a shelf life of 15 years before being sold on and with no more than 4 others built for export. Royal Navy could takes advantage and take 10 to increase it’s escorts by 5.
F26 factory would produce 10 ships ( 8 F26 and 2 D46 ) All for the Royal Navy.
Submarine factory would need to up it’s production rate from it’s current rate 6 3/4 boats to 8 boats for the next 20 years. This would give us one extra boat.
These are already known costs And should be programmed in.

We would also need another factory to build the 3 no fleet solid supply ships ( 3 years each ) Also a replacement of Argus followed by of Bulwark and Albion ( 3 years each) .


Wishful thinking.
We think the navy is in a bad way but the army is well and truly screwed .
Out of 227 MBT only 19 are operational and out 3,800 various APC only 800 are fit for action , the army would struggle to put more than 10 mobile artillery units in the field and even worse could only put 15,000 men in the field for 30 days.
In a NAO report it said that the army can no longer fulfill its core functions and is 11,000 regular troops understrengh and 9,000 reservists short .

Steve Taylor

To send our contribution to GW1 we had to empty out BAOR.

That was straight after the end of Cold War.

It amazes me how so many think 30 years-on-ish we have any real capability.

The role of the Army is to generate volunteers for SF…..and to find staff officers jobs in the defence industry when they go into retirement.

During the Cold War period the UK did too much while too many did too little.


It won’t work. The reason is simple, it’s almost guaranteed the next Government will be a Labour led Government, who will do yet another defence review i.e. slash and burn. History has shown that if a Conservative Government is in power for a minimum of two terms, they are always followed by a Labour Government. I think this is because the general public get fed up with the penny pinching and austerity that Conservative Governments generally follow and want change. Labour Governments borrow to make people happy, pilling money into big flashy projects, increasing minimum wages, unemployment benefit, paying for refugees to stay in the country, whilst racking up debt. Realism then hits the public, due to the enforced cuts and the Conservatives get back in to sort the debt out. It’s been a continuous cycle of boom and bust for the last 30 years. Unfortunately, the military are an easy target for cuts to pay back the debt, as they’re perceived as being only useful in a crisis, so we can make do in-between.
How can this cycle be broken? Personally, I think it can only be stopped if defence is made multi-party and decisions are enshrined in law. We also need the top brass to actually tell the truth, rather than spouting the party line, so the current Government aren’t embarrassed. The review should be done every 10 years regardless of which party is in power, but still have the flexibility to respond to World changes. Perhaps then we will stop have debacles such as FRES, binning the majority of the Army’s support, such as the artillery, over twenty years to decide on what the Global Combat Ship should be and replacing pilot training by privatisation.


Enshrining in law is problematic. It reduces flexibility & causes considerable delay as laws have to negotiate both houses. Fine when you want to make it hard to change tack, not so good when you need to change tack in a hurry. It can also give competitive advantage to private enterprise if you are not careful. Or in the case of the no deal Brexit law, competitive advantage to the EU.

Other countries with similar parliamentary systems do manage to pull it off. Even Canada (yes they cancelled a fighter jet order, but the replacement competition is actually for more fighters than the canceled order & ordered 15 high end spec T26).

I think part of the problem is the distance between left & right in the UK. Labour has moved so far left in recent times, it is in danger of falling off the wall. If governments only swing between centre right & centre left, the pendulum doesn’t swing so far.

Captain Nemo

I agree, I was thinking about that the other day when they were talking about enshrining yet another idea, it’s just a form of virtue signalling.
I’d pondered making the Defence Select Committee more powerful, giving it more oversight and budgetary control to give continuity, perhaps a trusted middle ground between Treasury and MOD.

Steve Taylor

Laws are only words on paper. Changing them is difficult, but not insurmountable.

Meirion X

I Do know what Place you mean where that is very Common!
It begins with the letter R in English!

Steve Taylor

Hello Capt Obvious! Any insights today? Most warships are painted grey? Sea water is salty?


Cough cough …its been the Tories over the decades who had the biggest ‘slash and burn’ defence cuts.
There seems to have been only one from Labour in the mid 60s.
The Most recent was of course the Tories in 2010 and the early 80s. ( Nott)
The 1990 Options for Change big cuts, again under the Tories at the end of the Cold War, would have seen a more bi partisan cuts as the forces in Germany were downsized etc.

This was new Blair governments 1998 SDR
hardly any wholesale slashing there DaveyB


Except that for all the fine words, they never actually funded it. You’ll recall there being two PCRS in that programme. Did the budget ever turn up?

SDR98 also made some explicit assumptions about operations, their scale and concurrency. Telic & Herrick blew right through those assumptions, but with no funding uplift to compensate. Result – lots of no or low visibility cuts. things like “maintenance holidays”, “flying hours reductions”, ILS reductions. Looks ok on the surface but below the surface, ever harder day to day tasks which then impacts on people. Who leave. In droves. Still being felt today.

Steve Taylor

Labour used to be keen on the metal bashing end of procurement because they thought it gained votes. Tories like clever solutions, effects not platforms.

Until somebody says we want to support a particular set of tasks for the next 20 years without review and then fund them we will always be at the mercy of the election cycle, ignorant MP’s, and the politicised upper echelons of the upper ranks and civil servants in Main Building.

Meirion X

Some of the Most Ignorant MP’s, aspire to Your Far left Viewpoint!

Steve Taylor

Thanks again Capt Obvious.


Steve not everyone here has your astounding depth of knowledge and experience.


I wonder if the SDSR 2020 will mention Britain’s plans for the W93 warhead the Americans are starting work on, to replace W76 & W88 on Trident in about 15-20 years?

Humpty Dumpty

I’ve never understood why the RN involves itself with humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations. I mean, I understand in the sense that the RN has the capability to carry out such missions, but we could create a civilian organisation to carry out such missions and let the RN get on with its primary job which is warfare (and preparing and training for it). And additionally such an organisation could help to repair infrastructure damaged by disasters such as hurricanes. This organisation could buy new or second-hand military dock landing ships, landing craft and large-capacity helicopters, as well as buying relatively cheap commerical vessels (either new or second-hand) and converting them into hospital ships (ferries for example would seem prime candidates for this role, although they’d need to be fitted with a helicopter landing pad). Obviously any vessels bought second hand would have to still have a lot of life left in them or it would be a false economy. Equally, I don’t understand why River-class OPVs are carrying out fishing protection duties. Again, this is something the RN shouldn’t have to concern itself with. Surely it would make more sense for the Coastguard to carry out such jobs? Or a new nationwide organisation set up solely for this purpose? As for drugs and arms runners, then surely that’s a job for the police? And they’d need something much faster than a River-class OPV for that job anyway, since I’m sure drugs and arms runners use the fastest vessels they can get their hands on.

The article stated “Cheap to run OPVs that do a fine job of maritime security in low threat environments cannot be rapidly reconfigured for war in the way that a frigate can.” Well that’s true, but imo the River-class OPVs (both Batch 1 and Batch 2) were poorly conceived vessels. They’re too expensive and overarmed for fisheries protection, they’re too slow to catch drugs or arms runners and they’re woefully underarmed for warfare.

The article stated “Much of defence procurement is inefficient, slow…”.
Well, yeah, no argument there.

The article stated “Fundamentally the RN and its advocates should be fighting for more resources for a bigger and better-equipped navy, starting with a commitment to extending Type 31 frigate production beyond 5 ships.”
Why? The Type 31 is another poorly conceived vessel. It’s already gone from 24 CAMM missiles to 12. By the time it’s actually built Sea Ceptor might be FFBNW (which actually means “fitted for and never fitted”). It’ll have no bow sonar (despite early designs showing one), towed array sonar, SSTD, VL-ASROC, ECM or decoys like MASS or IrvinGQ floating off-board decoys. Will a Merlin HM2 be a permanent fixture? And even if one is, the Type 31 will be diesel-powered and noisy, won’t have an accoustically quiet hull and won’t have all the other things a sub-hunting vessel needs so what’s the point? And yeah I know it’s meant to be a GP frigate (whatever that means), but since it won’t be able to defend itself from subs or take out subs, then that severely limits where it will be able to be used. If it’s meant to operate alone apart from a carrier group (which I think is the idea), then it will need anti-ship missiles and land-strike missiles as well. In other words, it will need to be a cross between a frigate and a destroyer. In any environment where there will be subs, the Type 31 will be a sitting duck. It’s anti-air defences are poor at best, even if it IS actually equipped with 12 CAMMs rather than none. The Bofors 40mm guns could be out of ammo in just 20 seconds. I can’t see it surviving for long in an environment where anti-ship missiles are being lobbed at it, plus mines are another threat of course that it’ll be susceptible to. The RN needs to be better equipped, I agree with that, but the Type 31 isn’t the way to do it. I’d rather cancel the Type 31 and build quiet diesel-electric AIP subs instead. They’d be much more survivable and able to take out enemy subs and ships as well as being able to fire TLAMs. They’d be far more useful than Type 31s.

As for protecting commercial ships, then uparmed River-class OPVs equipped with 2 DS30Ms enhanced with LMM missiles, CAMM missiles in 2 ADL launchers that can be replenished at sea (16 per launcher for 32 CAMMs) and a gun that can fire smart airburst ammo would provide comparable capability to the proposed Type 31 design at a fraction of the cost. My preference would be an Oerlikon Millenium Gun. Have these uparmed Rivers escorted by diesel-electric AIP subs and you’d have a far better solution than the Type 31.