Royal Navy’s 6000 ton Patrol Boat
Dissapointing but not unexpected, is the British Royal Navy’s future plans for a Type 23 and Type 22 frigate replacement. We get details from Jane’s:
A model unveiled at the show by BVT Surface Fleet has provided an initial indication of the key characteristics of the C1 variant of the Future Surface Combatant (FSC), intended to begin replacing the RN’s current Type 22 Batch 3 and Type 23 frigates from around 2020. And while officials caution that the model represents only an “early visualisation” of the C1 design concept, it nevertheless highlights some of the key attributes of flexibility, modularity and open architecture desired by the FSC programme… The result is a baseline monohull platform, displacing in the region of 6,000 tonnes, equipped for anti-submarine warfare, naval fires, special forces support and possibly precision land attack.
The stretched-thin and shrinking service seems to have bought into the conclusion that “bigger is better” and somehow high price means more capable. While these concepts might be true on occasion, not so much when the West’s naval forces are steadily shrinking and the threats continue to mount. The type of missions expected of the FCS are those currently conducted by the Type 23 frigate HMS Iron Duke, which we have posted on recently:
The Type 23 frigates were themselves built for another conflict, against a Soviet Navy long gone. Yet like America’s Burke’s she is forced to soldier on until Western Navies come to grasp with the new enemies we are facing, not one of missile battleships and supercarriers, but suicide bombers, or old-fashioned economic warfare with piracy. Such asymmetrical tactics at sea aren’t so flashy, or as expensive as our futuristic armadas, but seem to be equally effective.
We think her seakeeping abilities make this class stand out. Their spacious landing deck would also give it room to launch either a UAV or increase its weapon’s load for use in threat areas. While an OPV isn’t something you could send to a major war zone without protection, the numbers you could build for the price of a heavy frigate would enhance its survivability and usefulness. Each vessel costs £60m, making it very cost effective for the type of low intensity operations against pirates and smugglers which the High Tech Navy has little time for. Very many of these vessels could halt the downward slope of the Royal Navy, while enhancing its presence worldwide.
We continue to raise the banner for a bigger fleet, not bigger ships. The study of war at sea conclusively proves this recurring lesson, that the small ships are some of the most important vessels, and least appreciated until you actually need them, and they are always in short supply. The great American Admiral Zumwalt, one of the architects of the 600 ship Navy, would understand this, as he saw his precious fleet decline from the world’s largest to second place. While the naval leadership obsessed over supercarriers, nuclear submarines, and new guided missile escorts, the always-on-demand greyhounds, frigates, and small ASW carriers were retired with few if any replacements. He was mostly successful in his campaign to build a High Low Navy, but with the demise of the Soviet Threat, the small ships were again discarded in favor of exquisite and economical battle force ships.
I disagree with the notion that battleships should make up the entire fleet, or even most of the fleet. With large surface ships and naval aircraft now so much more capable than in the last century you only need a handful, while the low end operating forces you can’t have enough of. In the US Naval Institute Proceedings magazine, Captain R. B. Watts, USCG writes on what could certainly apply to the Royal Navy as well:
The Navy has not effectively deployed a new class of ship to deal with anything but conventional large-scale fleet combat for years. Blue-water combatants, carriers, and nuclear-powered submarines remain the focus of our shipbuilding efforts, and training remains focused on defeating an equally capable blue-water opponent. The limited use of these assets against asymmetric enemies is either rationalized in vague strategic terms or simply ignored.