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Monthly Archives: November 2016

  • House of Commons Select Committee on Defence - Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy

    This week's House of Commons Select Committee's report entitled: Restoring the Fleet: Naval Procurement and the National Shipbuilding Strategy has a key phrase:

    "At 19 ships, compared with 35 in 1997, the Royal Navy’s frigate and destroyer fleet is way below the critical mass required for the many tasks which could confront it. If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver the Type 26 and Type 31 GPFF to time, the MoD can start to grow the Fleet and return it to an appropriate size. The 2015 SDSR set out the Government’s ambition for a modern, capable Royal Navy. Now is the time for the MoD to deliver on its promises".

    Few would argue with that statement.

    Several newspapers and commentators have picked up on this and the phrase 'and return it [The Royal Navy] to an appropriate size'.  However, the report and subsequent comment have not made enough of the next phrase 'If the National Shipbuilding Strategy can deliver'. The  challenges of delivering the future escort programme to a timetable that will ensure no further reduction in escort numbers is immense.

    BAE Systems is the only shipbuilder in UK capable of delivering the Type 26 and the future Type 31 General Purpose Frigate. With the Type 23 going out of service from 2023 the first Type 26 must enter service then to replace HMS ARGYLL. Given a typical, first of class, build time of five years, Type 26 Hull-1 must start its build by 2017.  The current MoD and industry 'drumbeat' timetables envisage building and launching a ship every 18 - 24 months, but the 23s pay off annually - creating an immediate problem. Similarly with the propose GPFF Type 31 - the first would need to be in service by 2030, meaning a build start date of 2025 - at the present 'drumbeat' by 2025 there will still be 6 Type 26s to be built - making a dual warship building programme necessary.

    Does UK and BAE Systems have this capability and if not what are the alternatives? Perhaps the Chancellor would divert some of his planned 'spending for growth' funds on developing the country's shipbuilding infrastructure and improving the rate of delivery for new warships?

    Have your say.

  • ROYAL NAVY TO LOSE ASuW MISSILE CAPABILITY

    It was widely reported this week that Royal Navy ships will be left without ASuW missiles and  forced to rely on naval guns. The Navy’s Harpoon missiles will retire from the fleet’s frigates and destroyers in 2018 without a replacement, while there will also be a two year gap without helicopter-launched anti-shipping missiles.

    Harpoon missiles are unlikely to be replaced for up to a decade, naval sources said, leaving warships armed only with their 4.5in Mk 8 guns for anti-ship warfare. Helicopter-launched Sea Skua missiles are also going out of service next year and the replacement Sea Venom missile to be carried by Wildcat helicopters will not arrive until late 2020.

    A Naval  source said the new helicopter-launched Sea Venom missile will have a shorter range than the Harpoon and helicopters are also vulnerable to bad weather and being shot down. Rear-Adml Chris Parry, said: "It's a significant capability gap and the Government is being irresponsible. It just shows that our warships are for the shop window and not for fighting." Lord West of Spithead, a former First Sea Lord, said: “This is just another example of where the lack of money is squeezing and making the nation less safe. We will have this gap of several years without missiles. Well, that’s fine if you don’t have to fight anybody in the meantime.”

    A naval expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Britain was cutting its anti-ship missiles just as America had decided they were becoming more critical to maritime fighting.

    “It must be a great concern that this capability is going to be removed without immediate or direct replacement because we are moving into an era of concern about a more contested maritime environment,” he said.

    A spokesman for the Navy said: “All Royal Navy ships carry a range of offensive and defensive weapons systems.  Backed by a rising defence budget and a £178 billion equipment plan, upgrade options to all our weapons are kept under constant review.”

    This latest news, along with the gapping of fixed wing aircraft capability until HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH and her F-35B squadron(s) become operational, with 13 Duke Class Type 23 frigates to be replaced with 8 Type 26s and an, as yet, unknown number of the unconfirmed Type 31 General Purpose Frigates planned for the indeterminate future is, of course, worrying.

    Can we afford the Navy UK needs, or must UK settle for the Navy it can afford?

  • Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime)

    In January 1974 a group of warships, sailing under the flag of Flag Officer Second Flotilla, departed on a nine month deployment to Australia and the Far East. Task Group 317.1, as it was known, comprised the flagship FIFE, escorted by the frigates ARGONAUT, ARAIDNE, DANAE, SCYLLA and LONDONDERRY, supported by the RFAs TIDESPRING and TARBATNESS.

    On 17 September 1974 the helicopter cruiser BLAKE sailed from Portsmouth accompanied by the frigates LOWESTOFT and FALMOUTH and the RFAs STROMNESS and OLNA. Later that day the group rendezvoused with the submarine WARSPITE, three more frigates, ACHILLES, DIOMEDE and LEANDER, and the RFA GREEN ROVER. Once assembled, Task Group 317.2, under the flag of Flag Officer First Flotilla, set course for Gibraltar at the start of a nine month deployment to the Far East.

    At the time, this new policy of group deployments was seen as having many benefits over the traditional solo deployment or patrol. The ships could operate over an extended period as a single unit with huge benefits in training and proficiency. By ranging over the oceans, the group could participate in international exercises and training, benefitting from experience and tactics used by other nations. There were sufficient ships within the group that they could exercise as a single unit or split into smaller units tasked against each other. The impact of such a large group of ships on port calls was immense and gave the RN an international stage. The sheer number of ships also allowed for many visits by individual ships to smaller international ports rarely visited and thereby raising the RN’s profile internationally.

    The Group Deployment policy was to see cruiser or destroyer led task groups deploy annually to the Pacific, Middle East or Atlantic, through to the early 1980s when they were cancelled to save fuel. Of course 1982 saw the largest ever deployment to the South Atlantic to retake the Falklands - although this was an operational deployment, the training gleaned over the previous decade in operating large task groups at distance and away from base support was of great benefit.

    Throughout the 1980s and 1990s the deployments continued, usually led by an Invincible class carrier, through the Orient series of deployments, Global in 1986, Outback in 1988 and Endeavour in 1990. With the end of the Cold War and operational commitments elsewhere, the group concept deployment was scaled back as smaller operational deployments were required to supply an ongoing presence in both the Adriatic and the Gulf. In recent years annual deployments have returned with an emphasis on amphibious warfare and the ability to move forces and assets rapidly by sea. From Argonaut in 1999, through Aurora. Orion and Cougar, amphibious task groups have deployed to demonstrate their capability to deploy at short notice in response to global needs.

    The latest iteration of the amphibious TG has been deployment of OCEAN, BULWARK, RFA MOUNTS BAY and MV EDDYSTONE as the inaugural Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) a new structure to replace the previous Response Force Task Group. While primarily poised to conduct amphibious operations, JEF(M) is capable of undertaking a diverse range of activities such as evacuation operations, disaster relief or humanitarian aid.

    However, the deployments of today cannot be as effective as those of the 1970s and 1980s. While earlier Task Groups were fully self sufficient and operated as a unit for up to nine-months, the current JEF(M) will rarely operate as a four ship group. MOUNTS BAY is to rejoin Operation Sophia in the eastern Mediterranean and OCEAN is to deploy east of Suez to take over the role of CTF 150 from the US Navy. Of greater concern is that the group has no dedicated tankers or support ships, no heavy guns and is totally lacking in submarine support or surface escorts. The MoD note that the group will be joined by destroyers and frigates as and when required - that is more likely to mean as and when they sail into an area where one of the RN’s few destroyers or frigates is operating. Given the latest news that the situation in Yemen is escalating to maritime targets, sailing a lightly armed and defended amphibious group through those very waters must raise concerns. The greater worry is that if the RN are unable to corral sufficient ships to protect high value amphibious assets how will they cope with two large aircraft carriers in a few short years time?

     

    Steve Bush, Editor Warship World

     

  • APRIL 1940: THE BATTLE OF DRØBAK SOUND

     

    By Allen George

    Lying 35 fathoms deep, at the northern end of the Drøbak Sound 15 nautical miles south of Oslo, is the wreck of the German heavy cruiser BLÜCHER, still detectable on the echo sounders of passing ships. She was sunk by shells and torpedoes from the Oskarborg island fortress which guards the entrance to the Norwegian capital, a testament to Norway’s ability and willingness to fight the German invasion of April 1940, and the courage and initiative of a 64 year old Norwegian officer, who acted without orders.

    Outbreak of hostilities:

    The early months of 1940 were a time of anxiety for Norway, and a growing awareness the country  would have to prepare for war, despite being neutral, if it was to protect its freedom. The country was under pressure from Great Britain, which wanted to stop the coastal iron ore trade from Narvik in the north to Germany, but was hampered as the traffic sailed within Norwegian territorial waters. Throughout, the story was murky, because while Norway could be seen to be in breach of its neutrality through allowing the German access to its coastal waters, it had given Finland artillery and shells to help in the Winter War against Russia. Furthermore, it had also allowed Great Britain use of its territory to also transfer arms to Finland.  Despite the building tensions, Norway was unprepared for the German invasion when it came on the night of 8/9 April 1940, and there was little resistance, making the capture of Narvik, Trondheim, Bergen, Stavanger and Kristiansand relatively easy and swift.

    A major objective of the German operation was to take the capital Oslo and capture the Government and Royal Family. But it was in Oslofjord where the Germans met the fiercest resistance, very much thanks to one man, the 64-year-old Oberst (Colonel) Birger Eriksen, commander of Oskarborg Fortress. Built on an island, the Fortress guarded the seaward entrance to the capital. However apart from the officers and NCOs, almost all soldiers manning the fortress were fresh recruits, having only been conscripted seven days before. Colonel Eriksen had not received any clear orders and no notice as to whether the approaching warships were German or Allied, but on his own initiative he decided to open fire on the approaching group of ships lead by BLÜCHER. At 0421, 9 April, Col Eriksen ordered the fortress’s main battery to fire at the leading ship of the unknown vessels. After giving the command he made the heroic statement: “Either I will be decorated or I will be court martialled. Fire!”

    The fortress was armed with three, 11 inch guns manufactured by Krupp more than 40 years previously, plus an underwater torpedo battery built at the turn of the century, and set inside a cave. This battery was unknown to the Germans. Its torpedoes were made in 1900 at the Whitehead torpedo factory in Fiume, then part of Austria-Hungary. There was also a number of 5.9 inch and smaller guns on the mainland. In the event there were only enough artillerymen to man one of the 11-inch guns. But they managed to get two into action by splitting the trained men between two guns and supplementing them with spare hands, including cooks. The two guns fired were named ‘Aaron’ and ‘Moses’. Both scored hits on BLÜCHER at close range, about 2,000 yards, although because of the lengthy reload time they weren’t able to get off any more rounds before the cruiser passed out of the arc of fire. It wasn’t possible to get the third gun, ‘Josva’, into action. The first shell hit BLÜCHER just ahead of her main mast and set most of her midships ablaze. It penetrated a magazine containing depth charges, and bombs for the cruiser's Arado Ar 196 seaplanes. The blast blew out bulkheads, obliterated electrical circuits to the main armament rendering it useless, and ignited oil, setting off a fierce fire. The second round struck one of her forward gun turrets, causing considerable damage and further fires. In addition to the 5.9-inch batteries at Oskarborg, there were similar batteries on the eastern shore of Oslofjord, which all joined in .....................

    to read the full story of Blucher's sinking buy a copy of Warship World 15/2 or to receive  the magazine regularly subscribe here.

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