Pictures Crown Copyright unless otherwise stated
For news on coronavirus regarding SANO, the RN and armed forces, see separate Coronavirus page
QNLZ back from sea training
HMS Queen Elizabeth has returned home to Portsmouth after ten demanding weeks of sea training around the UK, preparing for her maiden deployment in the new year.
In view of the size and complexity of the carrier, she received a dedicated training package to test the ability of the 1,100 men and women on board to deal with everything they might expect to face in peace and war. The package, courtesy of FOST (see next item, below), climaxed with 18 simultaneous fire and flood incidents while continuing flying operations .
QNLZ will now undergo planned maintenance in Portsmouth before task group training later in the year, which will also see the ship work with two F-35 squadrons for the first time. That final package of training, working alongside NATO allies, will confirm her ability to act as a task group flagship, ready to lead a carrier strike force on front-line operations anywhere in the world.
FOST set-up renamed: FOST
The Flag Officer Sea Training organisation has been renamed Fleet Operational Sea Training. Still known as FOST, it is under Commodore Andrew Stacey, COM (Commander) FOST.
As well as training Royal Navy and RFA personnel, FOST is also an important source of revenue in training foreign naval crews to handle and fight their vessels; around a third of its work is in this capacity.
Audit report on Carrier Strike
Government spending watchdog the National Audit Office has reported on the financial and project management of Carrier Strike, the concept centred on the Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers and Lightning II F-35B jets. This is NAO’s fifth report on the subject.
Carrier Strike is central to the government’s plans for the country’s armed forces and being able to respond to conflicts and humanitarian emergencies anywhere in the world at short notice, inter-operably with NATO allies. The NAO report focuses on MoD’s approach to addressing the risks to achieving the capabilities of Carrier Strike. It does not evaluate those capabilities, or plans for its operational use.
NAO reports that:
- MoD has built and accepted into service the carriers in line with its timetable and, at forecast cost £6.4 bn, for only 3% above 2013 budget. It has conducted successful sea trials and is working closely with the US to be ready for its first joint deployment in 2021. It has also established plans for using Carrier Strike in its early years.
- MoD has developed much of the UK infrastructure to support the project, notably that necessary to berth both carriers simultaneously at Portsmouth and most of the facilities for the Lightning II jets at RAF Marham.
- A new airborne radar system, Crowsnest, a key part of a Carrier Strike Group’s force protection, is 18 months late. This will affect capabilities for the first two years of operation. The delay has been caused by subcontractor Thales failing to meet contractual commitments for developing equipment and not providing sufficient information on the project’s progress. Neither MoD nor its prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, were aware of these problems until it was too late, reflecting ineffective oversight by MoD of its contract with Lockheed Martin.
- MoD has made slow progress in developing three new support ships crucial to Carrier Strike’s operation. It has only one ship able to resupply the carriers with supplies such as ammunition and food, which slows the tempo and reach at which this can be done. MoD has long been aware that this will restrict Carrier Strike, but has not yet developed a solution. MoD’s cancellation of a recent competition to build new supply ships means they will not be available until the late 2020s. MoD will incur additional costs while it keeps the current ship in operation longer than intended.
- Since NAO last reported in 2017, the approved cost of the Lightnings element has increased by 15% from £9.1 bn to £10.5 bn, spending to date £6bn on 18 jets received of 48 ordered and 138 planned. There will be further costs to upgrade the existing fleet with new software and weapons, and continued risk of cost increases due to exchange rate fluctuations. MoD is planning to review the number and types of jets it needs, but buying fewer aircraft would affect how Carrier Strike can be used.
- MoD has not established a clear view of the future costs of enhancing, operating and supporting Carrier Strike over its planned 45-50 year life, and may not have made sufficient provision in later years’ budgets. For example, it is yet to make key decisions on enhancing capability over the longer-term, such as how to replace or extend the Merlin helicopter. Significant elements remain unfunded.
- MoD will not achieve value for money from its investment to date unless it provides clarity on its future ambitions, develops its understanding of future development and operating costs, and ensures cross-command coherence and collaboration to develop the full capabilities of Carrier Strike.
Gareth Davies, Comptroller and Auditor General, said:
“The MoD has made good progress with the big-ticket items needed to deliver Carrier Strike, such as the carriers, the first squadron of jets and the new infrastructure. But it must pay much greater attention to the supporting capabilities needed to make full use of Carrier Strike.
“The MoD also needs to get a firmer grip on the future costs of Carrier Strike. By failing to understand their full extent, it risks adding to the financial strain on a defence budget that is already unaffordable.”
The BBC quoted a MoD spokesman as saying:
“Carrier Strike is a complex challenge, which relies on a mix of capabilities and platforms. We remain committed to investing in this capability, which demonstrates the UK’s global role. Despite the disruptions of Covid-19, the Carrier Strike group is on track for its first operational deployment.”
Report, summary and NAO press release here.
Ex-Sussex P2000 prepares for Gib guard duty
HMS Pursuer, originally a sea tender to Sussex Division RNR and later attached to Sussex URNU, is preparing for duty as a temporary guardian of the Rock.
The aptly-pennanted P273 will over coming weeks work alongside Dasher, also an ex-URNU P2000, replacing the smaller Scimitar and Sabre as part of the Gibraltar Squadron.
More new power boats for RNR
Following the earlier report of the arrival of new power boats at HMS Calliope at Gateshead, the Maritime Reserves have taken delivery of more boats as part of a transformation to better support the Royal Navy.
Three years ago, “Project Gemini” was established to oversee the introduction into Maritime Reserve service of Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats. That vision is now a reality, with three units each receiving two high-end specification Gemini RHIBs. The boats, based at RNR units in Cardiff, Liverpool and Newcastle, will enable maritime training and experience that will strongly enhance the reserves’ support to front line operations at sea. The training will be based around the RYA Powerboat Scheme, which includes essential skills of seamanship, navigation and radio communications.
Commander Steve Fry, Commanding Officer of HMS Cambria in Cardiff, said:
“The arrival of these boats is hugely welcomed and something my ship’s company has been very excited about, and trained hard for, prior to their arrival. As HMS Cambria re-locates to a purpose built new unit on 31 July, these boats will enable us to train reservists right in the heart of Cardiff Bay.”
MoD review of reserve forces
MoD has announced a review examining how defence can best utilise the skills of the reserve forces.
Following the contribution reservists have made across society during Britain’s battle against coronavirus, the Reserve Forces 2030 review (RF30) will aim to establish how best to harness their specialist knowledge and expertise, in particular to support wider government, business and society.
Seeking views from across defence, other government departments, employers and academia in the UK and internationally, the review team will consider ways reserves could contribute to defence and wider government objectives. The review will also examine how defence can best partner with business and across government to share the cost, skills and expertise.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said:
“Reservists are an exceptional group of people with specialist skills and expertise in a wide range of sectors. Their integral role within our nation’s armed forces has been demonstrated once again in the support they have provided during the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s crucial that we look towards the future, not only to consider how best to utilise our existing talent but also how we can strengthen the role of reserves for generations to come.”
The MoD announcement concludes:
“The RF30 review team look forward to engaging with you all in the coming months and hearing your views – but in the meantime – if you have ideas about how defence, Her Majesty’s Government and wider society could get greater utility from its reserves out to 2030 then we want to hear from you.”
Comments to the review team can be made here.