Warship Technology May 2021
The outcome of the UK government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy has a number of implications for the future size and shape of the Royal Navy.
Plans have been announced for a number of new ship procurements, including new a multi-role ocean surveillance vessel, three solid support ships, and up to five Type 32 frigates. Alongside this, a refresh of the National Shipbuilding Strategy will establish a long-term shipbuilding ‘pipeline’ as part of wider efforts to reinvigorate the UK’s shipbuilding enterprise. Overall shipbuilding investment will double over the life of the current Parliament, rising to over £1.7 billion a year by the end of 2024.
However, some force level reductions are being implemented in an effort to free up funds for investment in new capabilities. This includes the early retirement of two Type 23 frigates, and the phasing out of the Royal Navy’s Sandown class and Hunt class mine countermeasures vessels (MCMVs).
Published on 16 March, the Integrated Review – Global Britain in a Competitive Age – described the government’s vision for the UK’s role in the world over the next decade. It was followed on 22 March by a Defence Command Paper, entitled Defence in a Competitive Age, which outlined the Ministry of Defence’s contribution to the objectives laid out in the Integrated Review.
From the Royal Navy perspective, the Integrated Review will accelerate a transformation plan that is already in train. It also reaffirms the delivery of the nuclear deterrent, a Carrier Strike Group and Littoral Strike forces as part of an enduring commitment to NATO security objectives.
The Integrated Review reaffirmed plans for new class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) – the Dreadnought class – to enter service from the early 2030s to replace the Vanguard class SSBNs. The first two Dreadnought class boats, Dreadnought and Valiant, have commenced construction at BAE Systems’ Barrow-in-Furness shipyard.
The plan to build seven Astute class nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) also remains unchanged. Four boats have been delivered to date, with three more at varying stages of construction at BAE Systems’ facility in Barrow. As a result of delays to the Astute build programme, the two remaining Trafalgar class SSNs, HMS Talent and HMS Triumph, are being extended in service to ensure a seamless transition.
The Defence Command Paper also commits to funding “the next generation of nuclear submarines to guarantee our security well into the second half of the century”. Programme definition and design activity informing this embryonic SSN(R) programme began in 2020.
A rejuvenated Carrier Strike capability remains central to the Integrated Force 2030 vision. Plans to reorientate the Royal Marines and the UK’s amphibious shipping toward Littoral Strike have also been endorsed but plans for two purpose-built Littoral Strike Ships are not being taken forward. Instead, one of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s three Bay class Landing Ship Dock (Auxiliary) – LSD(A) – vessels will be converted to serve as a littoral strike platform.