HMS Queen Elizabeth, 3-4-19. Pic courtesy of the Royal Navy in Scotland Twitter account @RNinScotland
Continuing our Policies to help Build British Independence and Maintain the Union...
We often hear it said that "Britain is a maritime nation". "Maritime" means, "connected with the sea, especially in relation to seaborne trade or naval matters".
This has always been true and it always will be true. It is because we looked out at the horizon and wondered what lay beyond, that the people of these Islands were impelled to find out. It is our geographic reality which helps explain Britain's unique history of exploration and empire-building.
Shipbuilding used to be a massive industry in the United Kingdom. It is smaller now.
But we certainly continue to build ships, and this article advocates a logical programme in areas which will be necessary in the years ahead.
In particular, we look at building ships for the Royal Navy, the UK Border Force, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.
THE AIM OF THE POLICY
1. Protecting our country, at the same time as
2. Investing in the British Economy and Creating Jobs
Therefore, while it may be necessary for the Armed Services, and Civil Powers such as the UK Border Force, to acquire more capability, we are speaking here only on acquiring that capability which also creates investment and jobs in the UK.
THE ROYAL NAVY
The Royal Navy is a key British Icon. Run down the Royal Navy and you run down Britishness.
Boost the Royal Navy, and you boost British Industry, Research, Science and Services. It's a mutually beneficial partnership. The same is true for shipbuilding of all kinds.
If a national approach is taken then British Defence Strategy can be woven into British Industrial Strategy, and investment in one will help the other.
Investing in the Royal Navy (or the Armed Forces in general) is always a win-win situation. You create long-term jobs and you protect the nation.
To illustrate just how this works, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Shipbuilding and Ship Repair released a report in May 2019. It listed the "Supply Chain" by Parliamentary Constituency for the Type 26 Frigates (pictured). It found suppliers located in 65 Constituencies in Scotland, England and Wales, even stating, "It should be noted that the table [page 14] records only a limited selection of the supply chain, which is likely to be more substantial." (1)
Let's look at some Royal Navy vessels which could be built.
Destroyers and Frigates
At the moment there is a serious lack of warships. We have 6 Type-45 Destroyers and 13 Type-23 Frigates in total, yet we have two Aircraft Carriers that need protection.
Destroyers are traditionally anti-aircraft platforms, and Frigates are anti-submarine platforms.
A rule of thumb to find the number sea-worthy at any time is to divide the number of warships you have by 3. So we have 19 hulls, or 6 in total which can be put to sea while the others are in port being refurbished.
In order to provide the Carriers with a proper anti-aircraft screen, then each carrier will need at least 3 Destroyers to protect it. Therefore, if they are both out together, there will need to be 6 Destroyers. Same for the Frigates.
Using our rule of 1 in 3 sea-worthy at any time, that means we will need 18 destroyers and 18 Frigates.
There are 8 new Type-26 Frigates which are being built or planned and which will replace the Type-23s on a one-for-one basis. There is also another 5 Type-31 Frigates still at the planning stage. There were originally going to be 13 new Type-26 Frigates to replace the current 13, but the order was lowered to 8, with 5 cheaper and less-capable Type-31s to make up the number.
The consensus, however, is that we should continue with the Type-26 Frigate building since they are top-of-the-range, state-of-the-art vessels.
Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs)
"Offshore" in the context of these boats means able to perform at a distance from the coast, which requires an ability to operate in rough seas. While more resilient than the Inshore Fast Patrol Boats, their hulls are optimised for littoral (close to shore) operations rather than "blue water" (middle of the ocean) operations.
They are used for "Constabulary Duties", rather than for long-range patrol and fighting missions. That is, they are used for protecting fisheries, oil and gas, anti-piracy, counter-narcotics and illegal immigration missions.
According to "Save the Royal Navy" website:
Although the English Channel presents a formidable barrier, the UK as whole has 17,820 Km of coastline (the exact figure is widely disputed) and 3,200 sq Km of territorial waters that needs to be kept under surveillance. There are an abundance of quiet harbours, estuaries and beaches which could be used for illicit activities. There is evidence that people smuggling into the UK by sea is on the increase. Besides people trafficking in our waters, terrorist activity, drug smuggling, illegal fishing and waste dumping are a concern. Offshore oil, gas and wind farm infrastructure may also need protection. Even Mumbai-style terror attacks launched from a 'mothership' remain an outside possibility. (2)
It is important to have enough OPVs performing "Constabulary Duties" in order to prevent the necessity of using a powerful ship such as a high-tech fighting Destroyer or Frigate to be "wasted" on such necessary tasks.
By the same token, it is important not to imagine that these OPVs can, or should, substitute for a larger fleet of Destroyers and Frigates.
How many OPVs should we have?
This article advocates a UK-based fleet of 7, and up to 11 in total:
To provide a continuous (at sea) UK EEZ [Exclusive Economic Zone] patrol presence of three OPVs – one in the Channel, one in the North Sea and one in the Irish Sea / Atlantic – requires five OPVs. Having four OPVs at sea would be preferable given the size of the area of ocean they will be required to cover, and this would require a UK-based fleet of seven. It is worthy of note that France (11-13), Spain (16) and Italy (10 ) all operate substantial numbers of OPV's in excess of 1000 tonnes (and many more smaller OPVs) even though their EEZ's are considerably smaller.