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Navies consider littoral ship defence impacts of the UK’s SDSR and US White House Fiscal Commission

Budgetary reviews and budgetary cuts have forced navies around the globe to rethink their procurement strategies. States have, for many years, procured and operated expensive defence equipment in common. Now, in the ongoing fight in the aftermath of the global recession, both the UK and US governments have striven to put defence spending under strict review. Cuts were inevitable but the impacts on the respective navies still shocked many defence experts and commentators.

Delivered on 19th October 2010, the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), according to Iain Ballantyne (Editor, Warships IFR), “gambles with the Royal Navy and Britain’s ability to project power or safeguard its citizens and interests around the world”. Meanwhile David Mugridge (Journalist, Defence IQ) goes one step further, predicting that the “SDSR leaves the Royal Navy destined to become the world’s most inappropriate coast guard”.  (You can read more from both of these experts at the Ship Defence in the Littorals Download Centre at www.littoralshipdefence.com).

With the loss of the Fleet Flagship and on-call aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal as well as the Naval Strike Wing (NSW) of Harrier GR9 strike jets, Ballantyne believes, “the UK government has wrecked the carefully calibrated transition from the current Invincible class carriers to the new Queen Elizabeth class”. In terms of Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), the devolution of the RAF’s Nimrod MRA4 programme has added to the naval burden as frigates will now be required to protect nuclear deterrent submarines as they leave or return to their base at HM Naval Base Clyde.

Although the SDSR committed to building the Type 26 future frigate, there are concerns that this will not begin until 2019 leaving the UK’s warship construction industry in severe danger of a skills gap. To compound the issue, force levels in destroyers and frigates, as Ballantyne describes, “the workhorses of any modern fleet” will be cut to just 19 vessels, including the decommissioning of four frigates out of today’s 17. The future therefore looks bleak for the Type 22s. The new UK-Brazil naval partnership may, however, help the Type 26 programme begin construction earlier.

Following hot on the heels of its UK counterpart, 10th November 2010 marked the submission of the draft report of the “Defence Recommendations for Deficit Reduction” as part of President Obama’s White House Fiscal Commission. Almost two years to the day that he was elected the 44th President of the United States, President Obama was presented with his government’s strategy to reduce the US Federal deficit. Defence procurement was hit hard. Looking to cut procurement by 15 per cent – namely US$20 billion – large scale, broad reductions in defence materiel, production and manpower were the predictable outcome. Not only will this affect the US defence forces on land, sea and air but perhaps more critically in an economic climate still fighting its way fully towards recovery, UK and European defence industries and armed forces defence partnering projects will also feel the sting.

Considering the overarching scheduled elimination of defence contractor positions from 10 per cent of current staff augmentees to 20 per cent, the naval plain doesn’t escape the cuts. The Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle programme, the Marine Corps F-35 programme and the Navy’s Future Maritime Prepositioning Force are all due to be cancelled.

With naval mission scope now extending across counter-terrorism, counter-narcotics, counter-piracy, security patrols, defence presence and contingency operations (war, humanitarian aid and disaster relief, non-combatant evacuations, limited interventions ashore), as Ballantyne concludes “something will have to give”. Mugridge claims that the UK has been exposed to “unnecessary risk, declining international influence and true independence of action by ignoring today’s strategic environment and the growing importance of the maritime domain to an island nation”. And indeed this is just as true for both navies. For the Royal Navy, a plethora of current and future large ships to protect against severe sub-surface, surface ship, air missile and asymmetric threats has had to balance with a diminishing number of frigates, destroyers, patrol vessels and strike aircraft, the key enablers for bigger ships within any fleet to operate safely, with sufficient screening from potential enemy action. Coupled with any procurement cuts comes the repercussions for the ship building industry – lower demand simply means lower supply and that will have its own negative job-cutting impact on shipyards across the globe.

Iain Ballantyne’s thought-provoking article “The Great Transition: New Royal Navy Abandons Primacy in the Maritime Domain” is available in full at the Complimentary Download Centre at www.littoralshipdefence.com where you can also find “White House Fiscal Commission – Defence Recommendations for Deficit Reduction”. The insightful “2015 – A Naval Odyssey: Royal Navy Strategic Forecasts for Future Force Projection” from David Mugridge is also available for download there. These ideas and issues are due to be discussed at Defence IQ’s forthcoming Ship Defence in the Littorals 2011 event in Amsterdam at the end of March 2011, for which more information and an agenda can be found at www.littoralshipdefence.com.

Overall, the White House Fiscal Commission white paper has left the US Navy lighter but arguably not as comparably light as the Royal Navy has become. Whether either navy will now be able to fulfil their respective mission scopes as efficiently as before is open to debate. Many commentators expect difficulties to arise. What is more inevitable though is that both of these budget cuts and those in other nations have led the shipbuilding industry to rethink their strategies in pursuit of scarcer procurement projects. 2011 will be a telling year for the naval domain, both within military and industry headquarters.

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