HMS Richmond (F239) is a Type 23 frigate commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1995. She deployed to APT(S) in August 2013. Tristan da Cunha is a British Overseas Territory located in the South Atlantic and has a population of less than 300 hardy souls.
Tristan shout for HMS Richmond as she visits remote island
The remotest inhabited island on the planet became the latest port of call for HMS Richmond on her South Atlantic patrol.
The Portsmouth-based frigate spent two days off Tristan da Cunha, which is at least 1,500 miles from the nearest human habitation.
THERE’S something almost primeval about this image of a volcano rising above a thin layer of cloud.
This is Tristan da Cunha – one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world – as seen from HMS Richmond as the frigate approached the isolated South Atlantic outpost of Empire to begin a two-day stay.
As with all Royal Navy vessels who call at Tristan, which lies 1,750 miles from South Africa and more than 2,000 miles from South America (the nearest inhabited locality is another British Overseas Territory, St Helena, a mere 1,510 miles away), the frigate had to anchor offshore – the harbour at the island’s capital Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is too small to accommodate a Type 23.
After the smattering of people at Richmond’s last port of call, snow-capped South Georgia (about a dozen souls), Edinburgh of the Seven Seas is a positive metropolis with a population of 275, who lead a mostly-self-supporting life farming.
Their island is dominated by the 2,100-metre (6,890ft) Queen Mary Peak shield volcano – whose base extends 3,100 metres (over 10,000ft) down to the Atlantic seabed.
On the first day of a Richmond’s visit, her CO Cdr Rob Pedre was welcomed aboard the island’s administrator and magistrate, Alex Mitham, and its police officer, Inspector Conrad Glass, to highlight some of the important roles that the Royal Navy undertakes in the South Atlantic.
The islanders reciprocated the hospitality on the second day with a reception at the administrator’s residence for a number of the Ship’s Company whilst the Commanding Officer was hosted by Mr Mitham and was able to enjoy a guided tour of the island – which is about seven miles in diameter.
Unfortunately, due to poor weather, a planned golf and football match had to be cancelled, although the Portsmouth-based frigate’s 815 NAS Lynx did make the short hop ashore.
“It has been a great privilege taking HMS Richmond to the remotest British Overseas Territory in the world,” said Cdr Pedre.
“We have reassured the local British citizens that live in Tristan da Cunha and my ship’s company have enjoyed witnessing an island that few people ever get to see.”
For those of you getting your Captain Phillips fix over popcorn, here’s an article from BJ Armstrong back in 2011 that qualifies as “must read” for those interested in the partnership forged by the US Navy and the Royal Navy in the fight against piracy.
Rotorheads and the Royal Navy in Maritime Security Operations
On August 11t h, 2011 the M/V Caravos Horizon was attacked by “sea bandits” in the Red Sea, just north of the Straits of Bab al Mendib. The distress call was picked up by Combined Task Force 151 and Expeditionary Strike Group 5, and they determined that there were two naval assets capable of responding in the vicinity. HMS MONMOUTH, a British Frigate, and USS BATAAN, an American amphibious assault ship, both swung into action. The crew of the Caravos Horizon secured themselves inside a “citadel” as six “sea bandits” boarded and took control of the bridge of the ship.
Bay Raider 45, an armed MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-28 Detachment TWO, was airborne flying regularly scheduled Search and Rescue duty with the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group at the time of the attack. The Knighthawk was brought back to the flight deck to top off the fuel. Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ordered the BATAAN ARG to send a helicopter toward the scene of the attack to provide intelligence, survelliance, and reconnisance (ISR) and to report information back to BATAAN. Bay Raider launched and headed south to provide assistance to the mariners in distress.
The purpose of this post isn’t to re-tell the story of the event. Both HMS MONMOUTH and USS BATAAN released reports of the incident which can be found in the open press. The PAO’s put hard work into these articles, read them for the story of a successful boarding to retake control of the M/V Caravos Horizon. Instead of rehashing the story, here at the USNI blog we’ll look at the larger picture…what lessons can we learn about counter-piracy and naval irregular warfare?
In October of 2010 I was lucky to be invited to speak as a panelist at the Naval Institute’s History Conference “Pirates on the High Seas” during a discussion of the history of piracy and counter-piracy titled “Blackbeard to the Barbary.” In my opening remarks I highlighted three things that stuck out from the 200+ year history of the USN’s counter piracy missions: Platforms, People, and Partnerships. Specifically, having the right “low end/high end” mix of hardware to do the job, having professional and aggressive junior officers to lead operations, and having competent and —allies to work with in the region. The combined Anglo-American response to the attack on M/V Caravos Horizon reinforces that these principles are as important in the twenty-first century as they were when Decatur, Porter, and Downes sailed in the nineteenth.
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare. While the traditional mission of running the racetrack in the “Starboard D” holding pattern as the “SAR Bird” is still a central part of their job (after all, its where Bay Raider 45 started the day), the Armed Helo provides a widely expanded set of capabilities for Amphibious Ready Groups and is an ideal platform for naval irregular warfare.
The Knighthawk pilots and aicrewmen of the Helicopter Sea Combat community are trained for a wide range of missions and skills which lend themselves to successful naval irregular warfare. These include anti-surface warfare and special operations support, as well as the traditional rotary-wing missions of search and rescue and logisitics support.
It is important to note that the “deckplate” leaders of the operations were all junior officers that had been extensively trained and prepared to make combat decisions. Lt Harry Lane RM, commander of the Royal Marines boarding team, Lt Chris Easterling RN, aircraft commander of the Lynx, LT Chris “Texas Pete” Schneider USN, of Bay Raider, are three individuals quoted and identified in the press releases. That wasn’t simply because they were the ones that the PAO could find because they weren’t on watch. These junior officers, along with LT Lee “Chunk” Sherman who was the aircraft commander of Bay Raider 45, demonstrated that when tactical level leaders are given the ability to make decisions and to temper their aggressive nature with solid tactical risk management, operational level success is around the corner.
The partnership element to this operation is obvious. The USN and RN have been working together since nearly our service’s founding to combat piracy and threats to maritime security across the globe. During the First Barbary War the British bases in the Mediterranean were opened to American ships in support of our fight against the Corsairs. In the West Indies in the 1820’s and 1830’s American squadrons teamed with the Royal Navy to help fight the piracy from Cuba. At the end of the 19th century we supported one another in the rivers and coastal waters of China. Sharing the same battlefields over the past decade has helped bring tactics, techniques, and procdures closer together across the range of military operations.
What struck me was the quote from LT Schneider in the BATAAN article about the seamless nature of the combined operation. It mirrored a comment made by LT Sherman during debrief after the mission. He said that working together with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, “was like we had done it all together before.” Seamless was a word used by both pilots. Our two ships have never seen one another, we never spoke before the moment that Bay Raider checked in with the Lynx over the radio, yet common procedures and decades of experience in combined operations allowed the junior leaders to adapt and flex for a rapid and effective operation.
There are other partnership elements of the mission that are also worth considering. The coastal states of the region are relatively quick to give permission for operations within their territorial waters when it is counter-piracy. This is a commonly overlooked element, during the 1820’s when the Spanish weren’t as cooperative off Cuba it made the work of the USN’s West Indies squadron much more difficult. The ability of the myriad of staffs and command organizations working in the region to work together is also vital. In today’s world of networked battlefields it can be easy for the networks to get overlayed on top of one another, and potentially tangled. With American and multi-national staffs all working the same geography and sea space, the ability to keep it straight and to respond efficiently in order to make decisions between the staffs is vital.
So Others May Live…Or Die.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.
The motto of HSC-28 Detachment TWO is “So Others May Live…Or Die.” Whether as a search and rescue aircraft or a helicopter gunship, DET 2 is a best friend to mariners in distress, worst enemy to those who aim to disrupt maritime security in the regions where we operate. The pride that I feel in being associated with DET 2’s maintenance team, naval aircrewmen, and our pilots is endless. After four and a half months supporting maritime security and contingency operations off the coast of Libya, we have moved southeast, and for the foreseeable future we remain on station…
The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any other department, unit, or agency.
Lieutenant Commander Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong, USN, is an active duty MH-60S helicopter pilot who is currently serving as a squadron maintenance officer in Norfolk, VA. He is a frequent contributor to Small Wars Journal, Proceedings and Naval History. He holds a masters degree in military history from Norwich University and was a panelist at the 2010 USNI History Conference “Piracy on the High Seas.”
On face value it would be tempting to dismiss this article as a hatchet job by a Texan blogger. I’m sure that many American readers of Foreign Policy are going to reblog it with glee. (Because, you know, ‘Murica showed up in two world wars and saved Yurop’s ass, right?) But I genuinely don’t think that was Beckhusen’s intent. He’s merely cataloging facts that any observer of British naval policy already knows. He’s cataloging those facts for an audience (Americans) that might not be paying that much attention. They’ve got their own budget battles, procurement snafus, ship decommissionings and operational overreach to worry about. So if, charitably, 1% of the article’s American readership actually pays attention to what Beckhusen is trying to point out, then that’s a bloody good thing. The other 99% can repeat the hackneyed trope of “savin’ Yurop’s ass” and we needn’t worry about them. So… here’s the article:
Here Are All The Things the British Military Can’t Do Anymore
In late September, the Royal Navy unveiled its latest nuclear-powered Astute-class submarine, HMS Artful, and also “christened” the hefty but sleek Daring-class destroyer HMS Duncan — the sixth and last of its class. Aside from the United Kingdom’s aircraft carrier program, these represent the two most significant naval shipbuilding programs happening in Britain at the moment. And two of the most controversial.
The vessels are impressive on the surface, but each ship originates from troubled development programs which — although coming with creature comforts and advanced technology — turned out to be less than impressive when put to the test.
New submarines running aground, older subs breaking down and destroyers put into service without adequate defenses against enemy submarines. It’s not completely surprising. The Ministry of Defence’s budget is half that of 30 years ago.
Perhaps more troubling for the Royal Navy: the vessels tasked with carrying Britain’s military into the 21st century have sacrificed key systems needed to defend against attacks, while suffering limitations in their ability to strike back at enemy planes and missiles.
Meanwhile, Royal Air Force ocean patrol planes that once buzzed the ocean scooping every signal they could detect have been cut altogether, meaning the surface ships are sailing blind — and Britain’s nuclear-missile force is sailing without escorts.
Here’s what Britain’s military can’t do. Or if it does do it, it doesn’t do it well.
Absent frigates and troubled destroyers
This is the Daring-class destroyer. It is one of the most embarrassing military programs in the British armed forces.
It wasn’t meant to be this way. Intended to replace the Type 42 destroyer which first entered service in the 1970s, the Daring class was envisioned as an 8,000-ton, 152-meter-long vessel with anti-air and anti-submarine capabilities par excellence. The centerpiece: an anti-aircraft system called Sea Viper with a Sampson dual-band radar capable of tracking 1,000 objects the size of a tennis ball as far away as 400 kilometers.
The system also has two different types of anti-aircraft missiles: the Aster 15 medium-range missile and its long-range cousin, the Aster 30, which can travel up to an impressive 75 miles. There’s also a 4.5-inch main gun for surface targets.
The Royal Navy is acutely aware of its need for robust destroyers with advanced anti-aircraft systems, principally owing to the Falklands War. Two Type 42 destroyers, the HMS Sheffield and Coventry, were sunk during the war by low-flying Argentinian aircraft. The Sea Viper system is also a big improvement over the Type 42’s radar.
But the Royal Navy built a ship with major weaknesses where it should be strong. For one, Sea Viper’s planned inter-ship communication system was to be added later, meaning one destroyer can’t share information via a satellite network with other ships. The complexity of all the new electronic systems and shoddy oversight also led to repeated delays and ballooning costs.
And there’s a problem with the missiles. The Aster 15s are fine for a lone incoming anti-ship missile — the Aster 15 is highly maneuverable and functions as a both short- and medium-range defense weapon. But the missiles take up a lot of space and can’t be “quad-packed” into a missile tube.
This reduces the number of available Aster 15s to a mere 20 missiles compared to the 96 missiles carried by the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The number is even fewer than the advanced (but much smaller) Sachsen-class frigates of the German navy, which carry 32 missiles — and that was already on the low-end. In the event of an enemy saturation attack — like a blitz but with anti-ship missiles instead of linebackers — the air-defense-focused Daring class could be in serious trouble.
Radar-guided Phalanx guns, which throw up a wall of 20-millimeter rounds as a last resort against incoming missiles, were not installed on the lead ship of the class until this year. Oh, and unlike the Type 42, the destroyer has no torpedo tubes to defend against attacking submarines. This job is left for the destroyer’s helicopters and — either a single Merlin or a pair of Lynx choppers — and a torpedo decoy system. The ship has no missiles for attacking land targets.
The Royal Navy has also built fewer Darings than it ever did for the now-retired Type 42. Cost-cutting measures forced a trim to the number of planned destroyers from 12 to eight ships, and then to a final number of only six ships. (The Royal Navy built 14 Type 42s.) So the Daring class is an anti-aircraft ship that’s fewer in number than its predecessor, with several major anti-air weaknesses and the ship has a major weakness against submarines.
The total price for the ships is now $10.35 billion?-?$2.4 billion more than anticipated — and was enough for one U.S. Naval War College report to describe the Daring class as “a symbol in the United Kingdom for mismanagement of procurement.”
That’s not all. The Royal Navy has retired the anti-submarine Type 22 frigate and doesn’t have the money to replace it. Also first dating to the 1970s, none of the 14 Type 22s are still in service — the last four of the line were sold for scrap in 2011. Thirteen Type 23 frigates are still in service, though.
But the Type 22 was Britain’s primary anti-submarine warfare ship. The Type 22 also doubled as the Royal Navy’s ship-based signals intelligence force. The ships contained the “only combination of systems enabling wide ranging monitoring of the frequencies and wavelengths of the Electromagnetic Spectrum of the sea,” Parliament’s Defense Committee noted in 2012. Now that’s gone.
Maritime reconnaissance planes turned to scrap
Let this sink in for a second. The United Kingdom has no dedicated maritime patrol planes.
That’s a pretty big deal. Patrol planes are more or less a requirement for a navy worth its sea-faring salt, and many coastal countries without sizable navies have at least some planes for ocean patrol missions. Even Denmark and Peru have maritime patrol planes.
They’re the eyes and ears of a fleet, and use a combination of radar, sonar buoys and other sensors to detect enemy ships or conduct search and rescue missions. The U.K. has also long used maritime surveillance aircraft to track Russian submarines navigating north of Scotland, peeking on naval maneuvers in the Arctic Sea and escorting the Royal Navy’s own ballistic missile subs.
For much of the Cold War, the Royal Air Force tasked this mission to the Nimrod MR1 and MR2 planes, which first entered service in 1969. An advanced aircraft for its time, the older Nimrods were eventually retired in 2011 to be replaced by the modern Nimrod MRA4.
The new Nimrod was supposed to be a major upgrade, and entailed rebuilding the plane from the inside out. There was going to be new engines and larger wings. New sensor systems would let the MRA4 see from longer distances, and the design enabled it to travel up to 2,500 miles further than its predecessor.
Upgrading the Nimrods proved to be an impossible task for an absurd reason. The planes are based on the de Havilland Comet, a 1950s-era commercial airliner which had been transformed over several generations during military service. But the Comet was never built to a standard — they were custom made. This means each plane is slightly different than the others, and thus exorbitant to upgrade when installing millions of dollars worth of advanced electronics.
Only one MRA4 was ever built. “The single MRA4 aircraft that had been delivered to the RAF was so riddled with flaws it could not pass its flight tests, it was simply unsafe to fly,” Liam Fox, the former British Secretary of Defence, wrote in the The Telegraph in 2011.
Fox was attempting to justify the complete scrapping of the program?-?it wasn’t easy. Twelve under-construction MRA4s were disassembled, and more than $6.3 billion went down the drain. The U.K. is now considering buying P-3 Orion patrol planes from the United States to fill the gap.
Rusty and broken submarines
In theory, the Astute-class nuclear-powered attack submarine is the most advanced British submarine ever built. In reality it’s underpowered, prone to numerous technical problems and is far behind schedule.
A replacement for Britain’s Trafalgar-class submarines, the 7,000-ton Astute class uses a Thales sonar — touted by the Royal Navy as the world’s best (which it might be) — while packing a combination of 38 Spearfish torpedoes and/or Tomahawk missiles. The sub also does not have a conventional periscope but a photonics mast, like a digital camera capable of seeing in infrared. There have been two Astute-class subs commissioned, the HMS Astute and Ambush. Four more are under construction, and a seventh is planned.
But neither Astute nor Ambush have become operational, owing to a number of problems and delays leaving the Royal Navy with only five aging Trafalgar-class subs in service. These older subs will be gradually decommissioned over the decade, and there’s rarely a time when a single Trafalgar-class sub is operational at any given time due to maintenance issues. HMS Tireless was put out of action earlier this year after a reactor coolant leak.
But what’s the problem with the Astute class? The main problem — and most serious — is that it’s achingly slow.
Designed to travel faster than 30 knots, the sub tops out below that (though how far below hasn’t been revealed). This means it can’t keep up with the ships like the under-construction Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers it’s meant to protect. In battle, that’s a potentially fatal flaw for the submarine and the carrier.
The reason for the trouble is believed to be incompatibility between the sub’s steam turbines which were built for the Trafalgar-class, and its nuclear reactor which was built for the giant Vanguard-class ballistic missile subs, according to The Guardian. Among other problems include corrosion, faulty monitoring instruments for the submarine’s reactor and even flooding during a dive. Astute also quite literally ran aground in Scotland in 2010 and had to be rescued.
Left out of this, of course, is the Harrier force. The Royal Navy’s carrier-launched jump jets were retired in late 2010, meaning the U.K. no longer has fixed-wing jets capable of operating from Britain’s one remaining ski-jump carrier, the Illustrious. However, the Royal Navy has pledged to buy F-35s for the Queen Elizabeth class. It may want to reconsider before more problems arise.
Robert Beckhusen is a collection editor at War is Boring, the site that explores how and why we fight above, on and below an angry world.