Defense Media Network

Royal Navy Is Stretching Its Sea Legs

Royal Navy and the Royal Marines are “thoroughly back in the game of global operations”

Courtesy of Surface SITREP, published by the Surface Navy Association (


The Royal Navy is expanding its maritime horizons and delivering operational effect around the world, including intense activity in the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Black Sea, together with a renewed drumbeat of presence in the Indo-Pacific.

“The deployment of not one but three warships to the Indo-Pacific, with a fourth that passed through the region on her way to the Arabian Gulf, and a nuclear submarine patrolling under the Arctic ice are just two examples of renewed capabilities and presence in areas we haven’t been for many years,” said Commander Maritime Operations Rear Adm. Paul Halton.

“The Royal Navy is enjoying something of a renaissance, built around our core pillars of submarine-born continuous at-sea deterrents, littoral strike groups capable of projecting our high readiness Royal Marines from the sea into the most arduous of environments ashore, and the return of our continuous strike capability based around the Queen Elizabeth carriers and their Lockheed Lightning II jets,” he said.

Royal Navy ships

HMS Queen Elizabeth, Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth, and oiler RFA Tidespring during F-35B flight testing. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin by Dane Wiedmann

“HMS Queen Elizabeth’s deployment to the United States – which united her with her F-35Bs for the first time – was a seminal landmark on our road back towards continuous carrier strike capability,” Halton said. “We made much better progress than expected in 2018 during the development tests, and that has put us in a position where we can really start to focus on operationalizing the carrier strike capability and building the maritime task group.”

With the “concurrent refresh of our littoral maneuver credentials,” as evidenced by the amphibious task group operations and the “submarine service’s silent custody of continuous at sea deterrents,“ Halton said. “The message we broadcast, both at home and with our international partners across the world, has been quite a simple one: The Royal Navy and the Royal Marines are thoroughly back in the game of global operations.”

Acquiring the latest in technology is also matched with the Royal Navy’s firm belief that the platforms must be designed, built and maintained to last. “The last captain of HMS Queen Elizabeth has not yet been born, and the aerial vehicles that it will operate then have not yet been designed,” Halton said.

The underwater battle space is a particular focus. “It’s always been a testing environment in which to operate, but the opposition have improved significantly. And we need to invest in new capabilities, new and innovative ways of operating, as well as continue to strengthen relationships with like-minded nations. The Type 26 anti-submarine warfare frigates are becoming a global success story, and the P-8 maritime patrol form part of that investment, but there are many less obvious but equally significant development.

Halton said the U.K’s submarine service also continues to have notable success. “’Operation Under Ice,’ where HMS Trenchant conducted trials in that unforgiving environment, testing her skills and procedures and joining US submarines – USS Connecticut and Hartford – in breaking through the ice at the North Pole, the first time we’ve done this since 2007. I suggest to you that it’s vital that we retain our capabilities to fight in the Arctic, as the region becomes more open to trade and international competition,” Halton said. “We must play our part in maintaining freedom of navigation.”

HMS Trenchant

The Royal Navy hunter killer submarine HMS Trenchant (S 91) surfaces in the Arctic Circle in support of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2018. ICEX 2018 was a five-week exercise assess operational readiness in the Arctic, increase experience in the region, advance understanding of the Arctic environment, and continue to develop relationships with other services, allies and partner organizations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Michael H. Lee

According to Halton, the new Astute class of nuclear-powered attack submarines are, “a force to be reckoned with, with a wide range of capabilities, fully justifying the title of ‘the silent service.’ With three now in service, and indeed three at sea today–along with two of our SSBNs – the fourth, HMS Audacious, joins us later this year, and they’re increasingly taking the load from our older submarines.”

The Dreadnought class is being introduced as the next iteration of ballistic missile submarines for the Royal Navy, representing a dedication to continuous at-sea strategic deterrence patrols since April 1969.


Importance of Partnerships

The Royal Navy actively participates in international partnerships and understands the great value in presence operations. According to Halton, it’s important to understand what presence is all about.

The Royal Navy is once again operating in the Western Pacific, with warships such as HMS Albion and HMS Argyll conducting “freedom of navigation operations along with U.S. Navy combatants. And during 2018, a Royal Navy captain was deputy commander of the U.S.-led Pacific Partnership operations in Southeast Asia.

“Traditionally, a hundred years ago, we might have taken the idea of ‘presence in a region’ to mean all the gunfighting ships that we have in that region,” Halton said. “Today we can take a much more nuanced approach.”

HMS Albion

The Royal Navy amphibious assault ship HMS Albion (L14) arrives at Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka for a scheduled port visit. HMS Albion was deployed to the Indo-Pacific to work alongside its partners to promote peace, security and prosperity across the region. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter Burghart

“We can look at these various touch points–from Pacific Partnership to coordinated activities with partner nations in the region, and the various conferences and various relationships that we build–and the totality of those, I think, is a much more powerful “presence” than we might have traditionally thought of in the past,” Halton said. “So we’re going to continue to build on that through 2019 and beyond.”

Halton said the Royal navy will continue to strengthen its Arctic warfare skills with the Royal Marines deployed alongside the U.S. Marine Corps and Norwegian colleagues in Norway.


New surface combatants

The Royal Navy’s recapitalization effort has delivered new ships with a range of capabilities, such as the two new aircraft carriers, nuclear submarines, Type 45 destroyers and amphibious assault ships, as well as smaller surface combatants and patrol ships. Halton said it’s all about “getting the blend right.”

“You need high-end ships to be able to fight peer competitors, and you need a quantity of less capable platforms that allow you to have a more consistent and continuous presence,” said Halton.

The new Type 26 frigate was to be the “Global Combat Ship,” a capable surface combatant but affordable enough for export. It will be joined by the Type 31.

Type 26

BAE Systems artist’s conception of the Type 26 Global Combat Ship. BAE Systems image

“If you look at the Type 26 and the Type 31, they’ve been born out of that global combat ship aspiration. And we looked at different platform types within that idea and global combat ship construct and I think that’s what we’re seeing now. Type 26 is turning into a very successful global product, with the Type 31 still to come. But it’s going to give the Royal Navy the mass that we need,” Halton said. “We’ve got a high end one and a lower end element. That’s the blend, isn’t it?

The Type 26 design has been selected by both Australia and Canada.


People Dimension

Halton also emphasized the “people dimension.” “We have to continue to strive to find the right way to employ our people in the modern era. People have various sets of expectations and aspirations and we need to tap into that. And in some cases – lots of cases – that’s giving them a really demanding, operationally focused experience, but we also need to balance that with the stability that they and their families rightly deserve.”

That is one of the factor that has led to the forward-deployment of HMS Montrose to Bahrain. And that has led the Royal Navy to look at new ways of operating. “We have to do more than just understand the material aspects of how we’re going to operate a ship at range, but how also how we’re going to manage and lead our people.”

Montrose will be forward-based from the new HMS Juffair Naval Support Facility at the Mina Salman port in Bahrain for three years. “We’re going to rotate her ship’s company – as we do for our ballistic missile submarines and mine countermeasure vessels based in the Gulf already – as a path finding project to help us deliver this in a way that puts the resilience of our people at the center of our thinking,” Halton said.


Renewed Presence in Middle East

Commodore Steve Dainton is both the Royal Navy’s regional commander and the deputy commander of the multi-national Combined Maritime Force (CMF) in Bahrain. Having HMS Montrose in theater all the time offers tremendous flexibility, Dainton said. “We’ll have much greater presence – 100 percent presence, because she’ll be in the theater all the time. The way we will man and sustain her–both engineering-wise and operational capability-wise, is new and innovative.

Dainton admits there are challenges inherent in multi-crewing and crew swaps. “There’s always a risk that you lose ownership of the platform if you’re constantly changing the people. We’ve got two crews and they will flip and flop over the three-year period. So there will always a degree of ownership because the crews know they’re coming back. If you don’t sort out problems you’re going to have to come back in live with them in four months.

mine warfare

The U.S. Navy expeditionary sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), fleet ocean tug USNS Catawba (T-ATF 168), Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Sentry (MCM 3), U.S. Coast Guard Island-class coastal patrol boats USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) and USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332); the Royal Navy landing ship dock RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009); the French Marine Nationale minehunters FS L’Aigle (M647) and FS Sagittaire (M650); the Royal Navy minehunters HMS Shoreham (M112) and HMS Ledbury (M30); and Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM) 15 MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters navigate the Arabian Gulf in formation during Artemis Trident 19. Artemis Trident is a mine countermeasures exercise conducted by France’s Marine Nationale, the Royal Navy and the U.S. Navy in the Arabian Gulf focused on increasing interoperability and demonstrating the nations’ shared commitment to ensuring unfettered maritime operations. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Samantha P. Montenegro

Dainton admits there are challenges inherent in multi-crewing and crew swaps. “There’s always a risk that you lose ownership of the platform if you’re constantly changing the people. We’ve got two crews and they will flip and flop over the three-year period. So there will always a degree of ownership because the crews know they’re coming back. If you don’t sort out problems you’re going to have to come back in live with them in four months.

The 16,000-ton Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Cardigan Bay (L3009) is a Bay-class landing ship dock, and is currently forward deployed to Bahrain as a support ship for the Royal Navy’s MCM forces there. It is operated with a civilian crew, similar to the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command.

The U.S. and U.K. have been working together to operate various offboard systems, such as those included in the littoral combat ship (LCS) MCM mission package, from alternative platforms. Experimentation has taken place in the Caribbean and Virginia Capes operating area with RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) and Cardigan Bay in the Arabian Gulf.


Future developments

Halton said the Royal Navy needs to accelerate the introduction of novel and disruptive technologies, such as open architecture command systems, artificial intelligence, machine speed learning, as it becomes a fully digitized service. It is also investing heavily in unmanned vehicles, and aims to have an unmanned mine countermeasures capability in UK waters by 2020, with a view to taking a ship out of the minefield altogether. “While it’s still very early in the planning, it’s envisaged that our Type 31 frigate will operate unmanned rotary aircraft from early in their lives,” he said.

The maritime domain and global maritime trade continues to grow in volume and importance. “For the UK as an island nation whose place in the world is defined by our history of maritime trade, our fortunes have always been inextricably tied to the sea. But this reliance on the maritime domain is not without its challenges, and that situation is only made worse by the erosion we are currently witnessing in the rules that have historically governed the global commons that are the world’s oceans. I think it’s widely accepted that the high seas are broadly free for all to use, and governed by international law and conventional norms, but for the most part, adherence to these laws is reliant upon common consent, and the size and multi-dimensional nature of our domain makes policing them inherently difficult.”

HMS Queen Elizabeth

An F-35B prepares to land aboard the Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08) during phase two of the First of Class flight trials (fixed wing) in 2018. Phase two tests included external stores, minimum performance short-takeoffs, shipborne rolling vertical landing and night operations. U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the Royal Navy

“Given the importance of the maritime domain to the future of our country’s prosperity, now is certainly not the time for us to take a step back from the world stage,” Halton said. “You can expect the Royal Navy to continue to maintain its global presence in the years to come, but we don’t plan to do this alone. Because even a cursory review of history shows that we’re best off when we work in partnership with those who share our belief in the importance of free and open international waters. And it’s an enormous boost for us to know that wherever we operate in the world, we have friends and allies and partners that we can work alongside.

“The key to working with our allies is the interoperability that lies at the heart of successful international partnerships. And for that effective interoperability, how we operate and why we operate is just as important as where we operate and when we operate,” Halton said.


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...