On 7 Nov 2015, Con Coughlin (CC) Defence Editor of the Daily Telegraph published the article, above. Normally a fan of CC I was disappointed in the tone of the content, its inaccuracies and what was omitted from the article thereby giving an unbalanced view of the ‘Battle’.
Aircraft Carriers – CC writes that the cost of the QE Class carriers has 'rocketed' to £6Bn with the dramatic implication that the Naval budget is taking valuable resources from the other Services. This belies the fact that the original estimate of their cost was £3.9Bn which had risen to £4,1Bn at the time of budget approval. Gordon Brown delayed the delivery of these two ships by two years which promptly added £1.5Bn to the cost such that by SDSR2010 the cost estimate was £5.9Bn. In 2013 the contract was set at £6,2Bn where it has remained, perhaps because BAE has agreed to pay 50% of any cost overruns.
There is no evidence of 'rocketing' costs here, merely that political interference to delay delivery of the ships pushed up the cost unnecessarily. The redesign and back again of the 'cats and traps' farce added a modicum but not a significant amount of increase.
Type 26 – It is believed that the RN needs 19 of these warships so that 13 are available for operations. Already the projected cost is coming under criticism. Media defence journalists overlook the reasons why these and indeed all warships are expensive. It is not the size of the ships that costs, as steel, Chinese or otherwise, is cheap as is the cost of welding it together, usually about 5% of the contract price. It is the ship systems that push up the cost - warships have to be acoustically quiet, stealthy, fuel efficient, be able to operate a helicopter / drone in high sea states, be able to replenish underway at sea, be equipped with sophisticated satcom, tactical communications and data links that are interoperable with NATO systems, carry offensive and defensive weapon systems for ASuW / AAW / ASW / EW, which have to be capable of dealing with a wide range of 'threats' (missiles, torpedoes, aircraft, swarm attacks etc etc), they require advanced NBCD protection. The list is not endless, but it is extensive and very little of it is cheap. Manpower is expensive so is reduced by having sophisticated automated systems - unfortunately many peacetime missions are manpower intensive.
I would agree with many commentators that a small 'second rate' ship for independent ocean and littoral patrol would be ‘sensible’. A good example of the type is the Irish Navy’s Samuel Beckett OPVs at 2,000 tonnes, built by Babcock at Appledore, and which cost about £45m. It is certainly likely that some of the T23s will run on beyond their 'use by' date.
Armchair critics there are a plenty, but the T26 comes better equipped, in the round, than the T45. A new gun (the first in 60 years) a 5" BAe Mk 45 54/62 calibre which has been in USN service for a number of years. The Army needs the RN to upgrade the calibre and range of shore bombardment guns. Sea Ceptor is an excellent replacement for Seawolf, with three times range and no requirement for a FC radar. The T26 will carry Harpoon anti-ship missiles and possibly Tomahawk or its replacement for long range land attack (deep strike). It has a big hangar and flight deck for two Wildcats or two Merlins or a mix, and a mission bay. The ship's company numbers 118 that can be
'surged' to 190 by embarking Royal Marines or even soldiers.
There have been queries as to why the Russian Navy achieved so much recently off Syria with the small Gepard Class Frigates and Buyan Class Corvettes, which were deployed to their Caspian Sea Flotilla. These vessels are 'day runners' and therefore require very modest, even by Russian standards, accommodation. This allows more room for lots of weapons including the Russian equivalent of the Tomahawk, the 'Klub' / Kh35. These ships displace 1,500 and 500 tonnes respectively and are not considered ocean / blue water vessels.
Carrier escorts. A Carrier Strike Group (CSG) is escorted by fewer ships in peace than in war. Typically an AD destroyer (T45), and one or two ASW frigates (T23/26), a SSN (ASW and land attack), a fleet tanker and a stores auxiliary. These supporting ships have their own aircraft (Merlin or Wildcat), which carry ASM and ASW torpedoes. To suggest that this is excessive when the carriers were ordered is naive.
JSF / Lightning II / F35B. It might be logical to add the cost of these aircraft to the overall carrier project. But it is probable that the RAF F35B Squadrons will operate more often from land and the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) ones will be permanently carrier based, save when in home port, so it would make more sense to keep the aircraft as a separate cost entity so as to avoid confusion. This is how the costs of the rest of the Carrier Air Group (CAG), the Merlin Mk 2 ASW and Merlin Crowsnest AEW helicopters are presented.
The F35B is always given the soubriquet 'most expensive defence programme ever' by the media, thus giving a perception that the aircraft is also the most expensive to be constructed. This is not true as over 4,000 of these aircraft will be built at some profit to BAe and RR and will benefit from economy of scale. The net result will be an aircraft with a unit cost much less than the Typhoon of which just over 600 will be built, unless there is a significant improvement in its export potential.
Typhoon – I do not understand why the costs of this 4th generation aircraft avoid inspection by the media, although it was slated by the NAO in 2013. The original cost estimate for 232 Air Defence Typhoons was about £8Bn which quickly lifted to a more pragmatic cost of about £13Bn. The cost has now grown to nearly £60Bn for an aircraft that is still not fully operational as a MRCA. Unfortunately the RAF will have only 107 of Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft at a cost of £127m (NAO 2013 price) each.
The RAF has reactivated some 30 of the 50 Tranche 1 Typhoons to keep up the numbers of squadrons and combat aircraft. The plan was to sell the Tranche 1 version to pay for the numerous upgrades for the Tranche 2 & 3 aircraft to enable them to be ‘Multi-Role’ and then ‘Swing-Role’. As yet there have been no sales of the Tranche 1 aircraft. It would seem that to adapt the original AD fighter design to a multi / swing role combat aircraft, which won’t be fully operational until 2020 at least, has cost to date some £45Bn. This would fund 16 aircraft carriers or 90 SSNs, for example.
RAF Combat Aircraft Numbers, as justification for the early removal between 2005 and 2010 of some 400 combat aircraft (Jaguar, Harrier, Tornado F3), was planned around a 'two combat aircraft type fleet' of the F35 and Typhoon and this plan was ‘sold’ to SDSR2010. If there are no export orders for Typhoon that aircraft’s production, already ‘slowed’ by BAe, is set to complete with the delivery of the Tranche 3 aircraft in about 2020. To sustain combat aircraft numbers for the RAF's land / carrier and the FAA's maritime / carrier / amphibious roles at least 96 F35s will be required if not the full 136 originally planned. That is the 'cost' of the RAF's not unreasonable 2 aircraft type decision. The alternative, argued by some, would be to give up the on the F35 and buy an alternative naval aircraft such as the F18 Super Hornet or Rafale N with the consequent alteration costs to the carriers to fit cats and traps.
A400M Atlas – another programme not mentioned by CC; this is a prestige Euro project badly managed by Airbus and which has incurred significant cost overruns, delivery delays and engineering problems. It is said that the unit cost of each aircraft is greater than that of a Typhoon, such that the cost is now classified. So great is the cost that the French, always loyal to Airbus and Euro projects, have augmented their tactical lift fleet by purchasing new C130Js which are priced at a third of the price of an A400M.
P8 Poseidon MPA – It was probably the correct decision not to proceed with the Nimrod Mk4, but to stand down the entire Nimrod fleet post SDSR2010 without considering a replacement, temporary or otherwise was extraordinary. Despite a number of problems the Poseidon is the 'top of the crop' of modern MPA and it is understandable why it is desirable, but the Japanese have a very high tech, cheaper and more readily available alternative in the Kawasaki P-1.
The USN does not intend to replace the Orion P3C one for one with the Poseidon P8, but to augment it with the MQ-4C – Triton, yet there is no indication or planning that the FAA or the RAF is to operate
similarly – which would be a mistake.
Special Forces – it is not clear whether the PM intends more SAS and SBS, or more Royal Marines and Paras. Apparently 40% of the SAS are drawn from the ranks of RM. Given the difficulties and relatively high drop-out rates of recruits to the Paras (already serving soldiers) and to the RM (straight from civilian life) it has to be doubtful how the PM’s plan can be achieved without diluting core skills of these units. It does not help recruitment and retention if the Chancellor has designs on freezing Service pay.
As most SF recruits are drawn from the Corps and the Paras at which stage there is further drop-out rate it would seem, to me, that the PM is indulging in fantasy about the physical and mental stamina of available military personnel - including, soon, women.
(Vice Chairman UKNDA)