Shaping a More Lethal Royal Navy

By Media Team

In a recent report released by the British Think Tank, Council on Geostrategy, the need for the UK to increase its naval capability to protect UK and NATO interests in the Euro-Atlantic and in the Pacific is underscored.

The Executive summary to the report is as follows:

  • The United Kingdom (UK) is a maritime nation by virtue of geography and history. Britain’s links to the rest of the world across and below the sea are vital to national security and prosperity.
  • The threats at sea are growing. Russia is undergoing a naval modernisation programme which will make the submarine threat in the Euro-Atlantic the most serious it has been since the end of the Cold War. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is undertaking a substantial naval expansion programme, building up its ability to project naval power both in and beyond the Indo-Pacific. And threats to shipping from other actors – as shown by Houthi actions in the Red Sea – are proliferating.
  • His Majesty’s (HM) Government should consider how to optimise the Royal Navy for the missions it will need to undertake. The Royal Navy should aim, in conjunction with allies and partners, to: Lead efforts to enact sea control in the Euro-Atlantic to protect Britain’s maritime lifelines and support the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO); an Contribute towards sea denial in the Indo-Pacific to deter the PRC from using military power to assert dominance in the region – and beyond.
  • Presently, the UK does not have enough naval capabilities to realise these objectives. To achieve them, the Royal Navy needs to be more lethal. To increase lethality, greater mass, survivability and integration are needed alongside improving the proficiency in and variety of available capabilities.
  • Investment should ensure the maximum potential of Britain’s aircraft carriers. This includes procuring additional F35B Lightning II combat aircraft, experimentation into how drones can augment the airwing, and improving the carriers’ defences.
  • The Royal Navy’s fleet of escorts (destroyers and frigates) is relatively under-armed and there are too few vessels for the tasks at hand – let alone those of the future. HM Government should invest in improving their armament, while ending the practice of building new warships ‘for but not with’ key weapons systems. The programme for the Type 45 destroyers’ replacement should be accelerated; it should result in a class of far larger warships capable of generating more electrical power and carrying more missiles – which also helps integrate ‘spiral developments’ (an approach designed to support iterative developments) and new systems in the future. And, crucially, the UK should seek to expand the planned number of escorts.
  • The submarine service should be de-risked by accelerating the build time for the Dreadnought class and procuring an additional Dreadnought as a missile submarine (SSGN) to provide extra deep strike and mitigate the risk of potential delays to the SSN-AUKUS programme.
  • A third batch of five Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) should be procured to replace the retiring Batch I River class OPVs and the retiring mine countermeasures ships. This will ensure more expensive and capable systems are not tied down with constabulary work.
  • Littoral strike capabilities should be bolstered with the prioritisation of the Multi-Role Support Ship process to ensure that the programme delivers a strong design which fully encapsulates all of the capabilities of the Albion and Bay classes with significant capability for employing uncrewed systems.
  • Mine countermeasures capabilities should be shifted towards autonomous uncrewed vessels with investment in the Mine Hunting Capability programme.
  • There are significant gaps in replenishment capabilities due to delays in the Fleet Solid Support Ship Programme, which should be addressed via options such as additional Tide class ships.
  • Seabed capabilities ought to be augmented by committing to procuring additional Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ships with the ability to add in or improve technologies as they develop within the testbed of Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Proteus.
  • The recommendations of this Report, if carried out in full, necessitates a shift in British strategy towards viewing seapower as a national endeavour. As the next strategic defence review looms, HM Government should consider emulating Australia’s approach by prioritising naval investment and focusing on the maritime domain, where Britain has innate strengths.

The report can be read here:

The report provides an important perspective but the need to accelerate the incorporation of autonomous systems within the maritime kill web clearly needs to be a major focus of such an effort.

The Future is Now for the ADF: Shaping Space for Maritime Autonomous Systems