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Future of the Royal Navy

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Title: Future of the Royal Navy  
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Future of the Royal Navy

At the beginning of the 1990s the Royal Navy was a force designed for the Cold War. The main purpose of its fleet, based around three small aircraft carriers and a force of anti-submarine frigates and destroyers, was to search for – and if required, to destroy – Soviet submarines in the North Atlantic. The 1982 Falklands War also demonstrated a requirement for the Royal Navy to maintain an expeditionary capability.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Royal Navy has been required to meet a wider range of objectives around the world, while experiencing a gradual reduction in the size of its surface fleet. Fixed-wing carrier operations ceased in 2010 with the retirement of the last Harrier GR7/GR9 aircraft. This capability will not be restored until the Joint Combat Aircraft (F-35) and the first Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier become operational around 2020. Cuts have also seen the sale of three Type 23 frigates in 2005/6 and the early decommissioning of four Type 22 frigates in 2010/11.

Over the course of the 1990s and the 2000s, the navy began series of projects to improve its fleet, with a view to providing enhanced capabilities, although many programmes were reduced in scale. This has led to the replacement of smaller and more numerous units with fewer, but larger, units. The main examples of this are the replacement of thirteen Type 42 destroyers with six Type 45s and the replacement of the three 20,000 tonne Invincible-class aircraft carriers with two operational 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers.

There are currently nine ships and submarines under construction: four Astute-class submarines (boats 3-6), the two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which began construction in July 2009 and May 2011, and the three ocean-going patrol vessels to be delivered from 2017. Preparatory and design work has begun on the Global Combat Ship programme, which will replace the existing frigate fleet from 2021. In addition, the Navy's strategic nuclear role is being extended through the Trident Successor programme, and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary will receive four Tide-class tankers by the end of the decade.


  • Ships under construction 1
  • Future vessels 2
    • Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier 2.1
    • Type 26 frigate (GCS) 2.2
    • Astute-class nuclear submarine (SSN) 2.3
    • Vanguard-class successor (SSBN) 2.4
    • Offshore patrol vessels 2.5
    • Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC) 2.6
    • Tide-class replenishment ships 2.7
  • Aircraft 3
    • Fixed-wing aircraft 3.1
    • Helicopters 3.2
    • Remote Piloted Air Systems 3.3
  • Weapons 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Ships under construction

The following vessels are at various stages of construction at shipyards around the UK, and will join the Royal Navy in the near future.

Class Ship Pennant No. Builders Displacement Type Homeport Commissioning
Queen Elizabeth-class Queen Elizabeth R08 BAE Systems, Rosyth 65,500 tonnes Aircraft Carrier Portsmouth 2017
Prince of Wales R09 BAE Systems, Rosyth 65,500 tonnes Aircraft Carrier Portsmouth 2020
River-class batch II Forth BAE Systems, Glasgow 2,000 tonnes Offshore Patrol Vessel Portsmouth 2017
Medway BAE Systems, Glasgow 2,000 tonnes Offshore Patrol Vessel Portsmouth 2017-18
Trent BAE Systems, Glasgow 2,000 tonnes Offshore Patrol Vessel Portsmouth 2018
Astute-Class Audacious S122 BAE Systems, Barrow-in-Furness 7,400 tonnes Fleet Submarine Clyde 2018
Anson S123 BAE Systems, Barrow-in-Furness 7,400 tonnes Fleet Submarine Clyde 2020
Agamemnon S124 BAE Systems, Barrow-in-Furness 7,400 tonnes Fleet Submarine Clyde 2022
Ajax S125 BAE Systems, Barrow-in-Furness 7,400 tonnes Fleet Submarine Clyde 2024

Further off, there is the Successor submarine which will replace the UK's Vanguard-class nuclear deterrent submarines, with the first due in service by 2028.

Preparatory and design work has begun on the Type 26 frigate, which will replace the UK's Type 23 frigates, with the first ship due in service by 2022.

A preliminary look into replacing the mine countermeasures vessels with a single, versatile class including both mine countermeasures and hydrography/survey roles is also being undertaken.

Future vessels

Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carrier

HMS Queen Elizabeth afloat, July 2014

In the 1998 Strategic Defence Review a requirement was laid out for a replacement for the Royal Navy's three Invincible-class light aircraft carriers. The Invincible class were originally designed as "through-deck cruisers", with each carrying a squadron of ASW helicopters, tasked with patrolling the North Atlantic in search of Soviet submarines. However, with the end of the Cold War, as well as events in the Falklands and the Gulf, the Royal Navy gradually changed in emphasis from an ASW force into an expeditionary force with a need for fleet carriers. As a result, in 2009 BAE Systems began construction on the Queen Elizabeth class, two 65,000 ton STOVL configured supercarriers. The primary weapons system of these ships will be the F-35B Joint Combat Aircraft. The lead ship HMS Queen Elizabeth entered the water in July 2014, with initial flight-deck trials expected in 2016 and commissioning in 2018. In September 2014 David Cameron announced that the second ship HMS Prince of Wales will enter service alongside her sister-ship, ending years of uncertainty about her future.[1]

Type 26 frigate (GCS)

A CGI of the Type 26 Frigate

In the 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review a replacement program was authorized for the Navy's current fleet of thirteen Type 23 frigates. In 2012 BAE Systems Naval Ships was awarded a contract to design the replacement, known as the Type 26. It is planned that two variants of the class will be built: five general purpose frigates, and eight ASW Frigates. According to the current timeline construction will begin in 2016, with the first Type 26 Frigate commissioning in 2021 and the last commissioning in the mid 2030s, as the Type 23s are gradually phased out.

Astute-class nuclear submarine (SSN)

HMS Astute enters Faslane Naval Base

In 1997 the MOD signed a contract with BAE Systems Submarine Solutions to deliver a new class of seven nuclear powered attack submarines to the Royal Navy. This class was intended to replace the five boats of the ageing Swiftsure class, as well as the oldest two boats of the Trafalgar class. The first-in-class HMS Astute was laid down in January 2001 and commissioned into the fleet in August 2010. As of 2014 two of the boats have entered service, one is undergoing sea trials, and three are under construction. The long lead contract for the seventh boat has been signed and her commissioning is planned for 2024. The Astute class are much larger than their predecessors and have greatly improved stealth, endurance and weapons load. Each submarine is capable of carrying up to 38 Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missiles and Spearfish Heavyweight torpedoes.

Vanguard-class successor (SSBN)

The UK government is currently conducting preliminary studies into a replacement for the four Vanguard class ballistic missile submarines which carry Britain's nuclear deterrent. However, no announcement has yet been made about whether a replacement class will be built, and if so when it will enter service.[2] In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, both of the UK's two main political parties, the Conservatives and Labour, pledged to authorize a like-for-like replacement of the four Vanguard class SSBNs, and to preserve the UK's policy of continuous at-sea nuclear deterrence. The final decision over a replacement will be made in 2016.[3]

Offshore patrol vessels

In November 2013 it was announced that to sustain the UK shipbuilding base, three new OPVs with Merlin-capable flight-decks are to be built.[4] In August 2014, BAE Systems was awarded a £348 million contract to design and build the new class. The vessels will be significantly larger than the River class and will be built on the Clyde in Scotland, with an in-service date of 2017. It is envisaged that they will be used for constabulary duties such as counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and anti-smuggling operations.[5] The vessels will be named, HMS Forth, HMS Medway and HMS Trent.[6] They will displace around 2,000-tonnes, be equipped with a 30mm main gun, 16-tonne crane for two sea boats, capable of making 24 kn (44 km/h; 28 mph) and patrol for upwards of 6,000 miles or 35 days with a basic crew of just 34 or maximum of 60.[7]

Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC)

The 2010 SDSR stated that the existing Hunt class and Sandown class of mine countermeasure vessels were to be replaced. The new vessels would use a common hull and modular design to support modern mine countermeasure, hydrography and patrol requirements.[8] In December 2010, an analyst suggested that "Current plans seem to point to a single class of vessel about 100 m in length and between 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes displacement. These will deliver on the MCM, survey and patrol requirements using a range of off board systems like USV’s, UAV’s and UUV’s." It was also said that any programme would seek "to replace the Hunt, Sandown, Echo and River-classes" currently in service.[9] During June 2011, BAE Systems and SeeByte of Edinburgh, Scotland, signed a "Co-operation Agreement to pursue business opportunities associated with the UK’s Mine Counter Measure (MCM), Hydrography and Patrol Capability (MHPC) Programme."[10] In January 2012, Dstl of the Ministry of Defence announced a programme - in 'Concept Phase' - with interests in the development of remote mine countermeasure and hydrography systems such as UAVs, USVs and UUVs. Such systems would offer unique capabilities and deliver elements of a wider MHPC programme.[11][12]

In May 2012 shortly after the Dstl release, the MOD published a 'Joint Concept Note' entitled "Future Black Swan-class Sloop-of-war". The MoD publication outlined the future maritime needs and challenges of the Royal Navy and focused on the potentiality of the Royal Navy returning to large numbers sloops as a solution. It proposes a class of around 40 Sloops-of-war, displacing 3,150 tonnes, a length of 95 meters and a low unit price of £65 million.[13] The sloops would incorporate a modular design, including; a mission bay for UAVs, USVs and UUVs during mine countermeasures and hydrography tasks, a large flight deck capable of accommodating a Boeing CH-47 Chinook sized helicopter for disaster relief operations and external module stowage for the ability to add and remove various offensive and defensive weapons when needed. The external module stowage is described as facilitating 'Capability Packages' so that the sloop can be reconfigured for different roles when the need arises. Fixed weapons include a single 30 mm gun, two Miniguns and two GPMGs. For 'Sea Control' or 'war-fighting capability packages' the Black Swan-class would be reconfigured with containerised missile modules for land attack, anti-ship and anti-air missiles in addition to the sloops' fixed weapons. A towed array sonar could also be fitted as well as directed energy weapons. The Black Swan-class would have a core crew of 8 with additional crew added depending on the capability package. For example, in some configurations a crew of 40 would be required.[13]

The order for the River-class Batch 2 led to the "patrol" element being dropped from the requirement in 2013.[14] The Concept Phase established that most elements of the capability could be delivered by off-board systems from steel ships, but a low-signature hull has not yet been discounted.[14] The Project passed Initial Gate in July 2014 and is now in the early stages of its Assessment Phase, which will deliver three technology demonstrators.[14]

A CGI of the Tide-class tanker

Tide-class replenishment ships

Four 37,000t Tide-class tankers are currently being built in South Korea for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary under the first phase of the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project. The ships will provide fuel, food, fresh water and other supplies to Royal Navy warships, and are projected to enter service in 2016. Phase 2 of MARS will deliver three Solid Support Ships to replace the Fort class in the 2020s.


Fixed-wing aircraft

F-35 Lightning II.

The aircraft carrier's major instrument of power projection is the carrier air group. The larger the air group, the more tasks it can perform. The Invincible class, because of its small size, has only a limited capacity, and is only capable of operating STOVL aircraft, the Harrier GR7/GR9. In 2006 the Sea Harrier was withdrawn from service. This saw the front line Sea Harrier squadron of the Fleet Air Arm converting to the Harrier GR9, as part of the evolution of the Joint Force Harrier concept. The Harrier's eventual replacement in both the RAF and the FAA is the F-35 Lightning II Joint Combat Aircraft. The F-35 will be a significant improvement over the Harrier, in terms of speed, range and weapon load. The UK had plans to order 138 F-35Bs for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. The financial crisis led to the decision taken in the Strategic Defence and Security Review to immediately withdraw the Harrier GR9 force in late 2010 along with HMS Ark Royal, to reduce the total number of F-35s planned for purchase by the UK, and to purchase the F-35C CATOBAR version rather than the STOVL F-35B. By May 2012, the government had decided to purchase the short-take off version, the F-35B instead.[15] In July 2012, the Secretary of State for Defence stated that an initial 48 F-35Bs will be purchased to equip the carrier fleet.[16] In September 2013, it was announced that the second JSF squadron would be the Fleet Air Arm's 809 NAS.[17]


New Merlin HM2 on HMS Illustrious

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review states that the Royal Navy will operate two types of helicopter in the future - the AW101 Merlin and the AW159 Lynx Wildcat.[18] The anti-surface/anti-submarine mission remains the purview of rotary aircraft; in small ships this is the updated Mk8 version of the Lynx. The Future Lynx program has seen 28 of the new AW159 Lynx Wildcat, ordered for the Royal Navy.[18] However, in the carriers and in later frigates, the larger and more capable Merlin anti-submarine warfare helicopter is used. There are 38 Merlin helicopters in service, and an upgrade plan intended to increase their flexibility of use until 2029 is planned. In late 2009 it was announced that the Fleet Air Arm would lose its remaining Sea King HC4 helicopters, their place being taken by Merlins upgraded and transferred from the Royal Air Force (RAF).[19]

The future AEW capability of the FAA is the "Crowsnest" programme, which intended to replace the current Sea King ASaC7 fleet due to retire in 2016.[20] Current plans will see Crowsnest enter service in 2022 (with a main gate in 2017)[21] acting as a roll-on/roll-off fit for the FAAs Merlin HM2 helicopters. The original six year capability-gap between the retirement of the Sea King ASaC7 fleet and the entry service of Crowsnest was the source of much criticism.[22] A recent PAC report, however, has revealed the Main Gate decision for the Crowsnest to be around 2017.[21] Crowsnest will be operational by 2019.[23] Thales was selected as the chosen bidder to provide the radar and mission system at the heart of the Crowsnest capability on 22 May 2015. They will provide a slightly upgraded version of the existing Searchwater 2000 radar.[24]

Remote Piloted Air Systems

The RN has been slower to adopt unmanned systems than some other navies; following trials with the rail-launched ScanEagles it started operational flights of leased ScanEagles in January 2014 watching for swarm attacks on HMS Somerset and RFA Cardigan Bay in the Persian Gulf.[25] This was expanded in November 2014, when 700X NAS was formed to serve as both the parent unit for ship based ScanEagle flights, and as the evaluation unit for any future RPAS systems that the Royal Navy elects to try.[26]

Dstl are testing ISR packages compatible with the RQ-20A Puma hand-launched UAV on board the M80 Stiletto US special forces trials ship in November 2014 under Capability Demonstration 15-1.[27] The optionally-manned PZL-Świdnik SW-4 Solo will fly from an RN ship in 2014[25] as part of the UK’s RWUAS (Rotary Wing Unmanned Air System) Capability Concept Demonstrator (CCD) programme.[28]


  • Sea Ceptor (formerly CAMM(M) or FLAADS) is a short-range air-defence missile to replace Sea Wolf on Type 23 frigates from 2016.[29]
  • Trials have taken place with a Type 45 destroyer using its SAMPSON radar to track ballistic missiles, and work is ongoing to develop its Aster missiles to counter ballistic missiles.[30]
  • The RN is looking at laser weapons, using energy storage from the British motorsport industry.[31]
  • Martlet (formerly FASGW (Light) and the Lightweight Multirole Missile) is a short range, supersonic anti-ship missile for use against small surface warships, patrol vessels and craft. Martlet is due to enter service around 2015 on the Fleet Air Arm's new Lynx Wildcat maritime helicopters.
  • Sea Venom (formerly FASGW (Heavy)), a bigger anti-shipping missile launched from helicopters, to replace Sea Skua from 2020.[32][33][34]
  • The Spear 3 missile is a multi-role networked anti-ship and land-attack missile based on the Brimstone anti-tank missile with the JSOW-ER turbojet to extend the range to over 120 km. Four Spear 3 can fit in each internal weapons bay of an F-35B, MBDA are also looking at ship launch for members of the Brimstone family.[35]

See also


  1. ^ "UK aircraft carrier Prince of Wales to go into service".  
  2. ^ "Q&A: Trident replacement". BBC News. 11 November 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-01. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "New offshore patrol vessels for Royal Navy". Ministry of Defence. 6 November 2013. Retrieved 6 November 2013. 
  5. ^ BAE Systems wins £348 million contract for new UK patrol ships,, 12 August 2014
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ Strategic Defence and Security Review, October 2010
  9. ^ Future of the Royal Navy - MCM and Survey,, Retrieved December 2010
  10. ^ BAE Systems and SeeByte Sign Co operation Agreement to Develop Solutions for Autonomous Maritime Operation,, Retrieved June 2011
  11. ^ Ministry of Defence Centre for Defence Enterprise (26 January 2012). "Remote Mine Countermeasures & Hydrography" (pdf). Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. p. 12. 
  12. ^ Unmanned Underwater Vehicles
  13. ^ a b Future Black Swan-class Sloop-of-war: A Group System (MoD Concept Note),, Retrieved 2012
  14. ^ a b c "Release of Information" (pdf). 29 January 2015. 
  15. ^ Government forced into U-turn on Royal Navy fighter jets,, 10 May 2012
  16. ^ Hewson, Robert. "UK slashes F-35B numbers but might look to split buy with F-35As." IHS Janes, 27 July 2012.
  17. ^ 'Immortal’ air squadron to fly Royal Navy’s newest jets,, 09/09/2013
  18. ^ a b Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty: The Strategic Defence and Security Review,, October 2010
  19. ^ Merlin Modernisation Road Map Advances,, 18/01/2011
  20. ^ UK seeds Crowsnest assessment work 17 April 2013
  21. ^ a b House of Commons Hansard written answers,, 29 May 2013
  22. ^ National Audit Office - CVF report,
  23. ^ New surveillance system for Royal Navy aircraft carriers,, 3 February 2014
  24. ^
  25. ^ a b Hoyle, Craig (16 January 2014). "Royal Navy ready to launch ScanEagle operations". Flight International. 
  26. ^ "X-men take to the Cornish skies". Royal Navy. 25 November 2014. Retrieved 25 November 2014. 
  27. ^ Scott, Richard (26 October 2014). "Dstl plans unmanned ISR payload demonstration from Stiletto". IHS Jane's Defence Weekly. 
  28. ^ "PZL-Świdnik exhibits technology of the future at MSPO 2014 with the SW-4 Solo RUAS/OPH". PZL-Świdnik. 1 September 2014. 
  29. ^ "Press Information - CAMM" (PDF). MBDA Systems. June 2011. Retrieved 16 October 2011. 
  30. ^ Tran, Pierre (12 May 2013). "MBDA Positioned to Score Big in 3 Deals". Defense News. 
  31. ^ Hookham, Mark; Gillespie, James (2 November 2014). "Red Bull gives boost to navy’s laser weapon". Sunday Times. 
  33. ^ Multi-million-pound investment in Royal Navy missiles,, 27 March 2014
  34. ^
  35. ^

External links

  • Royal Navy - Future Ships - Type 26 Global Combat Ship (
  • Royal Navy - Future Ships - Aircraft Carrier (
  • Royal Navy - Future Aircraft - F35 Joint Strike Fighter (
  • Royal Navy Aircraft Carrier Strike (Royal Navy pdf)
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