NWI - Naval Warfare

DSEI 2019: Royal Navy ‘must not bask in avoidance of decline’

9th September 2019 - 18:00 GMT | by Richard Thomas in London

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The departure of HMS Queen Elizabeth for the second iteration of the WESTLANT 19 sea trials off the eastern seaboard of the US in August is the latest step in the supposed rejuvenation of the UK Royal Navy as it looks to return to blue water strike operations.

That the UK’s industrial base has had the capacity to build and deliver two carriers, which are currently only surpassed in size by those operated by the US Navy, is testament to its ability to think big picture ambitions and, for the most part, deliver.

Indeed, Adm Tony Radakin, the recently appointed First Sea Lord of the Royal Navy, during Day Zero at DSEI 2019 in the Maritime Capability Conference spoke of a service ‘bullish’ about its future prospects, which included the introduction of Type 26 and 31e frigates, Dreadnought SSBNs and carrier strike capability.

However, Radakin issued a warning note that ‘with the Royal Navy growing for the first time in 70 years’ it would not be enough to ‘just bask in the avoidance of decline’.

Continuing, he moved to highlight five aspects that the Royal Navy would look to focus on in the coming years, including; increased operations in the North Atlantic; the deployment of a viable carrier strike group; improving Royal Marine capabilities to create a ‘fifth generation commando’; enhance the forward presence of the service and see more personnel and platforms active at sea; and finally ‘embrace’ technology and innovation.

The Royal Navy presence at DSEI will see the return of the Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll to the docks and the first visit of HMS Medway, the second of the Batch 2 River OPV, to welcome invited guests. The former vessel, the oldest of the Type 23 frigates, will likely be replaced by the first of the planned five Type 31e light frigates in the 2023 timeframe.

The formation of the carrier group and cut from 13 Type 26’s to just eight could see the creation of a two-tier fleet, as smaller, less expensive frigates are introduced into service. One can expect the Type 45 air defence destroyers and Type 26 frigates to operate to a different tempo than the Type 31e and Batch 2 Rivers.

What shape the Type 31e will comprise is expected to be made public during DSEI itself, with The Telegraph reporting that the Arrowhead 140 will be given the nod, beating out rivals Leander and MEKO A-200 alternatives. However, it should be noted that no official announcement has been made at the time of publishing.

These five frigates, or maybe more, will serve to bulk up the escort fleet of the service, contributing to NATO standing tasks and undertaking solo deployments to regions such as the South Atlantic and Middle East. This in turn will enable the Type 26 frigates, with its towed array sonar, to focus on carrier strike group operations and protection of the nuclear deterrent.

Indeed, in 2017 a speech by then First Sea Lord, Adm Sir Phillip Jones, stated that the Type 31e would be geared towards maritime security and defence engagement operations, including the fleet ready escort in UK waters, tasks in the South Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf, along with NATO commitments. 

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