back to article Creaking Royal Navy is 'first-rate' thunders irate admiral

Admiral Sir Philip Jones, head of the Royal Navy, has written how "you'd be forgiven for thinking that the RN had packed up and gone home" in response to the kicking the naval service has received in the press recently. In an open letter published on the RN website, the admiral wrote: "Sadly the world is less certain and less …

  1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "That said, the admiral is duty bound, for better or for worse, not to embarrass his elected political masters."

    I would have thought his duty is to HMQ, not to the ministers pro tem. In which case, if he actually thinks the Navy isn't being properly supported it's his duty to say so and if saying so in private isn't doing much good, embarrassing them in public might be an appropriate way to cary out that duty.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "I would have thought his duty is to HMQ, not to the ministers pro tem."

      My father's old training manual tells in some detail how the system works. Basically if the professional head of the Navy feels that the Navy cannot perform its duty he has to tell the political head; and if that gets him nowhere he has to tender his resignation. There are various other things around this, but basically the operational status of the Navy is really an official secret and he has no business going public with it.

      The problem, of course, is that the probability of today's ministers understanding the system is pretty low, since we currently have a Lord Chancellor who doesn't understand her job, and a Foreign Secretary who seems to think his job is to upset foreigners without the global empire that enabled us to do it with impunity in the 19th century.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        but basically the operational status of the Navy is really an official secret and he has no business going public with it.

        The authors of that advice clearly never conceived the idea that the RN might ever be so pitifully small that anybody who can count to double digits can see that said navy couldn't even defend the Isle of Wight.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "The authors of that advice...."

          You might like to know that, should you happen to visit the submarine exhibit at Chatham Dockyard, the exact horsepower of its twin Diesels is still officially secret. If the Russkies ever find out, we're stuffed I tell you.

          1. werdsmith Silver badge

            Re: "The authors of that advice...."

            HMS Ocelot. Well worth a look.

            1. Aervac

              Re: "The authors of that advice...."

              That brings back memories, I was at the launch of HM submarine Ocelot back in 1962. Launched by the wife of Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Sanders, Director of Dockyard Maintenance at the Admiralty. I bet that post doesn't exist any more either.

      2. Aervac

        Not much has changed when it comes to how politicos and the Lords view the navy, even in Nelsons day it was a disaster when commanders used their own initiative.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          "even in Nelsons day it was a disaster when commanders used their own initiative."

          Please explain how the Navy was supposed to function before the invention of electric communications, if individual commanders didn't use their own initiative. By the time the fleet got somewhere, the circumstances could have changed dramatically from those originally envisaged. And sending fast frigates with messages only worked to a point as just finding a fleet was a major exercise. It was relatively easy to send messages back to England because a large island is harder to miss.

          A bit like the accidental conquest of India.

          "The locals are rioting, warehouses being attacked, please advise."

          Seven months later a message is received: "On no account upset local authorities."

          Three and a half months later a message reaches London: "Sorry, while waiting for your reply I have had to take over the country."

          The reason politicians didn't like the Navy was because individual captains like St. Vincent and Nelson could cover themselves in glory while the politicians were back-stabbing one another in London; because the Navy was the single largest operation in the country and so the most visible when it was mismanaged; and because it was indispensable.

          1. Aervac

            Re: "even in Nelsons day it was a disaster when commanders used their own initiative."

            Well there was a time called 'Old Navy' when ships were made of wood and men had backbones of steel. Even St. Vincent back in the day complained about discipline and management, where a lax sort of command was the order of the day. It was only when power was put in the hand of man that things really began to change.

  2. Gene Cash Silver badge

    The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

    That's ok, our most advanced ship, the USS Zumwalt, broke down in the Panama Canal and had to be towed to a port for repair.

    That's $4.4B being poured into the water as opposed to your piddly $1B :-)

    Oh and this is the same ship that can't fire the guns because the rounds are $700K each.

    So are our navies having a "oh woe is me?" contest here?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

      That's $4.4B being poured into the water as opposed to your piddly $1B :-)

      Ha! I'll raise you our latest maritime patrol aircraft, Nimrod MRA4, completely cancelled and sold for scrap after some £4bn had been splashed on it. At least you've still got a shiney new broken-down ship. All we've got is some photographs, and a friendly wave from Russian submarine captains in our waters.

      And there's the slight matter that unlike the RN, you've still got a whole host of frigates, destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers. Arguably all those weapons haven't been used for global good, but that's just as true of our two ship navy.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Zumwalt's $700K shells

        The US Navy has showed some sense (or had it forced into them by someone) and decided to not procure any more of those super expensive shells as the cost has now climbed to around $1 million each, based on a planned purchase of 2000 shells, because Zumwalt's massive cost overruns caused them to drop from a planned 28 ships, to 7, and finally to only 3!

        They'll instead modify the guns - there is talk about installing a rail gun on the Lyndon Johnson since its powerplant produces 78 megawatts, which is enough to handle it. At least the 'shells' for a rail gun are just pieces of metal, so even with the military's insane markup can't cost more than a few tens of thousands of dollars each (I hope) The new Hyper Velocity Projectile is also under consideration.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

        Look on the bright side, at least you are getting friendly waves from the Russian submarine captains. Probably because those captains have a shrewd idea themselves of what would happen if they made any attempt to stay underwater for more than a few hours at a time.

        If you think the British navy is in poor shape, you can still thank your lucky stars you're not in the Russian navy...

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

      Any guesses as to why...

      "Canada explores purchase of 18 interim Boeing Super Hornets"

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-38068875

    3. ZanzibarRastapopulous

      Re: The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

      Zumwalt is intended to be an experiment, our ships just suck.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The Navy on both sides of the pond suck

        Zumwalt was not intended to be an experiment, but a new class of stealth destroyer for the 21st century. The original order for 27 ships belies the claim it was an experiment.

        The idea of making a stealth ship seems rather pointless. Sure, an enemy ship's on-board radar might miss it because of that. But in the 21st century any naval group is going to have drones around it, which even at night could easily spot the heat signature of something like that - you can't have a 105,000 hp turbine without leaving a giant IR signature no matter how carefully you dump the waste heat in the ocean. Larger countries like Russia and China have a global satellite network which would be fed right to the bridge of their ships. Stealth is a complete waste of time except in the air.

        I imagine this started being designed in the early 90s and has gone through many revisions, cancellations, and rebirths on its way and while it might have been relevant when it was first on the drawing board since UAVs weren't a thing yet, the design cycle took way too long and it is already obsolete.

  3. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Duh? Wuh?

    US and French navies would not entrust them with protection of their aircraft carriers in the Gulf." A strong point: for all their electrical flaws, the Type 45s are world-leading air-defence destroyers.

    Please remind me again who exactly has capabilities or the intentions to do airstrikes on aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf.

    1) Israel

    2) Turkey

    3) Russia

    4) Syria

    5) Saudi Arabia

    6) Al Qaeda

    7) US

    8) ISIS

    9) Iran

    10) Rump Iraq

    11) Yemen

    12) France

    ?

    1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

      Re: Duh? Wuh?

      You missed India and Pakistan. Last I checked, they had pretty well developed militaries, albeit mostly preoccupied with killing each other. China likely has strike capability in the middle east as well, as they have allies in Africa and the ability to put boats with things that fly on them out there.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Rolls-Royce WR-21 engines* broke down,"

    Rolls Royces do not breakdown, they fail to proceed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Headmaster

      Rolls Royces do not breakdown, they fail to proceed.

      The plural of Royce is (in this context) Rices.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Go

        >The plural of Royce is (in this context) Rices.

        Thank you for the received pronunciation lesson your majesty.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Rolls Royces do not breakdown, they fail to proceed"

      The cars are a separate operation. At one point they had American light truck engines, they now rely on a German parts bin. During the 1970s I knew someone who had a Royce that failed to proceed so much, his wife complained that it wasn't "her" Honda Civic any more and he owed her a car. The Civic did 40 000 fault free miles and cost less than one year of RR depreciation. The Royce was very comfortable in the back, though.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: "Rolls Royces do not breakdown, they fail to proceed"

        Worse than the fact it has a German engine is that it is actually a German car... the chassis, engine, drive train, electronics all come in from Germany. The only thing related to England is a bit of stitching of the imported leather (probably also German) and a bit of polish on the imported wood at the front.

        Its as English as a tin of Russian Caviar.

    3. Geoffrey W

      They do not "Fail", they simply "Decline"to proceed as being beneath them.

  5. Rol Silver badge

    We could better honour our commitment to NATO by scrapping Trident and expanding our conventional forces, which frankly are much more flexible than a "deterrent" that we would never use against non-nuclear foes, and be of little significance in a full blown nuclear conflict.

    We're an island, and stopping the enemy from planting boots on our shores has always served us well, so to relegate our navy to "once was great" is an appalling lack of judgement.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      We're an island, and stopping the enemy from planting boots on our shores has always served us well, so to relegate our navy to "once was great" is an appalling lack of judgement.

      But now we welcome hostile foreigners trying to plant boots on our shores, and provide them with food, accommodation, and free legal advice on how to claim "asylum".

      Rather begs the question of why we have a military at all.

    2. StuartMil

      [Trident] "It is the nuclear missile Harrods would sell you! What more can I say?"

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
        FAIL

        @ StuartMil

        And there's reams more of Yes (Prime) Minister equally appropriate here.

    3. Citizen99
      Facepalm

      "We could better honour our commitment to NATO by scrapping Trident and expanding our conventional forces "

      Part 1 - Trident scrapped

      Part 2 - Er, savings taken from the defence budget to instead fund the palaces, and coastal defences, of third-world dictators. Virtue duly signalled.

    4. Dave 15 Silver badge

      cobblers

      Dont buy an american nuclear missile, develop our own so it is ours, it is independent, we can use it and it will support some r&d spending in the UK

      However do buy a large nuclear missile capability... frankly when all the other defence you possess is a couple of broken down ships unable to hit the enemy (no missiles, no guns) an airforce which wont be able to fly 0.2 seconds after the start of war as the runways will be full of holes (as we had in ww2 and we did to the argies in the falklands) and an army so small that it is lost in a football stadium it doesnt matter if the attacker is or is not nuclear armed it is the only credible defence we do have.

      If we took 100 billion or whatever trident spend it would NOT be spent on warships, tanks or planes, and in a couple of years further defence cuts will have removed any extras we had

  6. thames

    A few clarifications

    With respect to the engines, Rolls Royce built the turbines, which as the bootnote mentions are working fine. The intercooler-recuperator was designed and built by an American defence company. This was a US-UK joint venture which was supposed to provide the future engines for all US and UK destroyers, and have a significant civilian market as well.

    The UK ended up being the lead customer. When it turns out that the super-duper, revolutionary, transformational intercooler-recuperator turned out to be not so super duper after all, the US cancelled their participation in the joint venture and the RN was left holding the bag with the engines in the Type 45. The new Type 26 and Type 31 frigates will use bog standard conventional Rolls Royce marine gas turbines without the problematical gubbins.

    With respect to the Harpoon missiles, they're both obsolete and soon to be life expired. The obsolete bit means that pretty much any modern destroyer or frigate could shoot them out of the sky before they posed much of a threat. They're only of much use against elderly and obsolete ships. The life expired bit means that their "best before" date on the explosive and flammable bits is coming up, which means you either have to bin them or spend loads of money rebuilding them. Given the RN's relative lack of cash, and the fact that the elderly missiles are not all that useful these days (see above), they decided to bin them. Keeping them would mean robbing from another budget and doing without something else they think they need a lot more.

    The intention is to replace them with a newer model of missile. They are looking at buying the US replacement for the Harpoon, but that project is late and so is not available for now. There's also a project by a European missile company which could be in the running as well. The RN will hang onto its money in the mean time until there's something on the market to buy.

    If they really need to go to war with another navy, they can tap cabinet for UOR funds (extra funds allocated for a war, rather than coming out of the RN's regular budget) and buy current model missiles off the shelf from someone and stick them on their ships pretty readily. Anti-ship surface to surface missiles are one of the easiest weapons systems to integrate. Most of them were originally designed as container systems that can be bolted down to a deck and plugged in so that they could be retro-fitted to many existing ships.

    With respect to the RN overall, the biggest issues on the equipment side are related to being starved of funds a decade or so ago, and so being left with a set of ships and weapons which are rapidly reaching their end of life. It takes years to get a new ship class from power point to in the water, and its easy for the government of the day to put off naval spending so they can spend the money on pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan without raising taxes.

    The other big problem is with personnel. The RN are struggling to retain staff. The big problem is that a lot of their technical staff with transferable skills can both double their salaries and be able to have a normal family life by simply signing off and taking a job working for a civilian company in power generation or something similar. Low salary caps mean that people quit, more work load gets thrown on fewer people which causes them to quit, in a death spiral of resignations. Current government policies which are intended to take all the fun out of naval life (e.g. restrictions on shore leave when abroad) remove what few life style attractions the navy had. It's all very well to say that the RN should have more ships. The reality is that they're struggling to man the ones they have right now. If they had more ships they would be tied up at the dock empty.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: A few clarifications

      "If they really need to go to war with another navy, they can tap cabinet for UOR funds (extra funds allocated for a war, rather than coming out of the RN's regular budget) and buy current model missiles off the shelf from someone and stick them on their ships pretty readily."

      How long does "off the shelf" lead time compare to "really need to go to war"?

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: A few clarifications

      "The intercooler-recuperator was designed and built by an American defence company."

      If I buy a brand spanking new car and it fails/breaks down on a regular basis and has a provable design flaw, I expect the manufacturer to repair or replace at no cost to me and supply an equivalent working vehicle for me to use while they fix the problem. The fact the supplier bought in parts from outside contractors isn't my issue. Let the vehicle supplier deal with the their suppliers and claim back the costs from them.

  7. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Devil

    Moreover, each carrier will need, at the very least, both a frigate and a destroyer as escorts;

    That has always been the case in all navies which have carriers - 2+ ships as escorts and support.

    The Russians tried the concept of an aircraft carrier which can defend itself too and they have abandoned it as unworkable jack of all trades master of none. Kiev carried 72+ SAM and 20+ anti-ship (+/- variations between different ships in the class). Today it is the norm as this is what nearly all engagements ended up with - you have to protect the things any way, you might as well plan for it and make best use of each ship type.

  8. Voland's right hand Silver badge
    Devil

    All in all it is unclear if RN is following the right doctrine

    The RN is following a version of the USA doctrine which it does not have a budget for:

    1. Most of the offensive power is concentrated in the air wing.

    2. The rest of the carrier group is tasked predominantly with defending the air wing

    Just UK has taken it to the extreme - While the California class (USA answer to Frunze) has been retired, USA still has Ticonderoga class missile cruisers and significant missile armament on Arleigh Burke who has both legacy Harpoon launchers and Tomohawk capable VLS. It has teeth other than the carrier wing and has used them repeatedly in the past.

    NO POOR COUNTRY IS doing what UK is doing. Any country which has the sorry budget to maintain a <30 odd ship navy and has no money for more has gone for arming their navy with missiles to the teeth. Even countries with larger navies have gone down that route.

    The admiralty is still suffering from PTSD after the loss of Prince of Wales and the Repulse. It is time it got over it and faced the fact it is not only air power that makes up for offensive naval fire power nowdays.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: All in all it is unclear if RN is following the right doctrine

      Well, in the type of news that make WaPo editors cry like sissies because there may be possible bad, bad and evil influence by Rodina, we read: Making Sense of the Russian Naval Task Force Off the Coast of Syria

      What is, in your opinion, an aircraft carrier? Or, let me put it this way, why does the United States maintain a force of 10-12 heavy aircraft carriers? If you believe Ronald Reagan, it is to “forward deploy” and bring the war to the Soviets (that was, then, the rationale for a 600 ship navy and US carriers in the northern Atlantic). Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that US, British, French aircraft carriers are a colonial rule enforcement tool. You park one or two aircraft carrier battle groups a few hundred miles from a disobedient country, and you bomb the shit out of it until it rolls over. That is, in reality, the only rationale for these immense structures. And the beauty of it is that you can threaten most of the planet and that you do not depend on allies agreeing to your mission. So, we can say that US and other western aircraft carriers are a long range power projection capability used against weak and poorly defended countries.

      Why weak and poorly defended only?

      Here is the ugly secret that everybody knows: aircraft carriers cannot be defended against a sophisticated enemy. Had the Cold War turned hot, the Soviets would have simultaneously attacked any US carrier in the north Atlantic with a combo of

      Air launched cruise missiles

      Submarine launched cruise missiles

      Surface ship launched cruise missiles

      Submarine launched torpedoes

      I cannot prove the following, but I can just testify that I had plenty of friends in the US military, including some who served on US aircraft carriers, and they all understood that US carriers could never survive a Soviet saturation attack and that in case of a real war they would have been kept away from the Soviet shores. I will only add here that the Chinese apparently have developed specialized ballistic missiles designed to destroy carrier battle groups. That was then, in the early 1990s. Nowadays even countries like Iran are beginning to develop capabilities to engage and successfully destroy US carriers.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: All in all it is unclear if RN is following the right doctrine

        and they all understood that US carriers could never survive a Soviet saturation attack

        Bingo. The validity of this is multiplied several times as far as the RN is concerned. In addition to being unable to defend against a saturation attack by at least the top 5 non-NATO naval powers out there, it also has no surface ship based retaliation capabilities if the attack is even moderately successful and manages to incapacitate the carrier which is being escorted. Any retaliation will have to come from submarines, Belgrano style.

        By the way, if you filter some of the propaganda and demagoguery out of the article you pointed to it is spot on. The Russians did the Syria deployment to ensure a no-flight zone just in case Hillary gets elected and Obama decides to throw a fast ball for her to hit a home run in her first days in office. Their air wing will get some valuable training, but the missile "guns brought to a knife fight" will remain silent.

        By the way, the author of the article made some mistakes. I think the Granits on the Kuznetsov are now reduced if not removed completely to provide more space for aircraft. They managed to finish this before she left for Syria. The other scheduled item - the propulsion overhaul, never happened. What the author missed is that the fleet group met there the already on duty Varyag, her escorts and a couple of Sovremennuy class destroyers from the Pacific fleet. Varyag is a Slava class cruiser and it carries launchers which can launch the slightly older Basalt (also with upgraded electronics nowdays) and maybe has capabilities to launch more modern missiles from same canisters (rumor is that P800 can be loaded into it). So the actual firepower of the fleet down there and its actual AA capabilty is significantly BIGGER than described in the article. By 30+ heavy anti-ship carrier killers and > 200 AA launchers. It is unclear how many missiles did Israel manage to knock out, but Russians have sold Syria 72 anti-ship cruise missiles as well. So any ideas of going there and enforcing a no-fly zone or dropping weapons into Aleppo are in the realm of suicide.

    2. Dave 15 Silver badge

      Re: All in all it is unclear if RN is following the right doctrine

      rot.

      missiles were the reason we destroyed our navy and airforce in the 60s, it was a mistake then and to repeat is a mistake today. missiles and even drones are just not capable to evade, defend or check the real situation when they arrive. for that you need real people in real planes.

      the fact the navy is stupid in that it requires an undefended ship of oil and aviation fuel as well as the carrier itself means that it is entirely vulnerable. you dont have to sink the carrier, just deprive it of fuel. as we have perfectly good nuclear power plants (we use them in subs) and the ability and knowledge to use them to drive a ship we should use it. The space saved in ships fuel tanks could be used for ammo and aviation fuel and the money saved on supply ships could build extra carriers. If we also made all the frigates and destroyers nuclear powered we would end up with a navy that can operate more than 5 miles from Portsmouth

  9. Milton

    Theory vs HE

    There are some good contributions here, but I fear that once again we are too easily sucked into theoretical musings about capabilities ... musings which tend to look naive, innocent and charmingly quaint when exposed to the rude realities of high explosive.

    It seems to be one of the physical laws of the universe that there is always some idiot (or defence contractor's salesman, insofar as there is a difference) proving, with extensive bludgeoning of Death By Powerpoint, that this or that billion-dollar-baby is so much better than all the crappy old stuff that came before. "Yes," the sleazoid enthuses, "you can only afford a hundred of these, but they're 200 times better than the old stuff, so you'll still be better off—and win the war!" (To the congresscritter or MP he says "We'll build a completely unnecessary special factory in your district, employing bilions of people, so you get re-elected" or "A nice sinecure on our Board awaits your useless fat arse, minister", respectively.)

    Thus we end up with sophisticated, eyewateringly expensive weapons systems that are totally awesome, on paper ... and astonishingly useless when the poor bloody tom, or hapless matelot, needs it to just f**king work, NOW.

    It seemed like a good idea to leave the gun out of the original F-4 Phantom. It saved money and helped the CG to build destroyer superstructures from aluminium. It would save billions to build one plane to do all the jobs once performed by several different ones. It's cheaper to leave the CATOBAR systems off our new carriers, because the planes can VTOL. The Russians will never get a missile up to your altitude, Mr Powers ....

    1967, '73 and '82 (Six Day War, Yom Kippur War, Falklands War) provide abundant real-world testimony to the difference between what salesmen and uniformed fantasists say, and what actually happens. It's a very broad gap, and if there is any single lesson to be drawn (apart from "Trust neither defence contractors nor politicians, for they are serpents") it is that your favoured, expensive, versatile high-tech babies will get you killed, while simple, robust, dedicated systems just do the job.

    1. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: Theory vs HE

      The military and those who fund them, are usually driven by their experience in the "last war". Even with tech improving, the mind set is the "last one". Firearms changed warfare, but for how many decades it was the "form up the line of battle" and then open fire across the field at the other side done? Or the massive human wave (a variation of what happened after the opening volleys)?

      The navy (any navy) isn't exempt from this. Hell, they still teach Trafalgar as a viable battle tactic.

      OTOH, there's also the non-realists, the dreamers. The F4 without a gun was the fantasy that all air forces were headed to "missile only" warplanes. They didn't take into account the smaller countries buying up (or getting because of treaties) the cast off weapons of the majors.

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Re: Theory vs HE

        "The navy ,,, "

        The Royal Navy please.

      2. WolfFan Silver badge

        Re: Theory vs HE

        The military and those who fund them, are usually driven by their experience in the "last war". Even with tech improving, the mind set is the "last one". Firearms changed warfare, but for how many decades it was the "form up the line of battle" and then open fire across the field at the other side done? Or the massive human wave (a variation of what happened after the opening volleys)?

        Not this again.

        The first practical man-portable firearms were matchlocks. They were big, they were heavy, they required walking around with a lit length of slow match, basically cord with gunpowder mixed in. They fired by slamming the lit end of the slow match into loose gunpowder which then fired the main charge and, with luck, the bullet. They had a rate of fire of something like one round per minute if you were good, more like one round every two minutes if not. A good man with a matchlock might, just might, be able to hit a large target, such as a horse, at 50 meters. At 100 meters he wasn't hitting anything, save by sheerest luck. Matchlocks and rain didn't go well together; the rain would put the matches out, and would we the powder in the pan so even if the matches stayed lit the only result would be a fizzle. This meant that matchlocks also didn't do well at sea. Night attacks with matchlocks meant showing your position.

        Wheellocks, basically clockworks, eliminated a lot of the problems with matchlocks. The pan was covered, so rain and spray from the sea couldn't get in. There was no lit match, so night attacks were at least possible. However... you had to wind the weapons before each shot, reducing the rate of fire considerably. And wheellocks were as complicated as clocks, and so were hideously expensive... and fragile. Very few military men used wheellock should arms. Some of the richer soldiers might have wheellock pistols, but in the main the military used matchlocks.

        Flintlocks were almost as reliable as wheellocks, and worked by putting a piece of flint in the hammer instead of the slow match. The flint would be struck against steel, creating a spark; at the same time, the hammer would slap the cover of the pan, allowing the spark to hit the loose powder in the pan and fire the weapon. It was considerably more water-resistant than a matchlock, and faster to fire, and more reliable... and still didn't work well in rain or at sea. If you were good, you might get two or three rounds per minute with a flintlock musket. Very good musketeers might get four shots in a minute. They were still extremely inaccurate.

        Now, some problems. Throughout the black powder era (that is, until 'smokeless' powders arrived at the end of the 19th century) firing firearms generated vast clouds of smoke. There was a reason why military uniforms of the 15th through early to mid 19th centuries were so bright: it was the only way to be able to be seen, once the fighting started, by either side. Worse, until the invention of the bayonet, musketeers would completely helpless while reloading. Throughout the late 15th to the 17th centuries, musketeers had to be paired with pikemen. It was the pikes which made the mass charges, moving as quickly as possible while the opposing musketeers tried to reload. The pikes also kept hostile cavalry, armed with sabres and lances for the most part, off of the musketeers while they reloaded. The first form of the bayonet was the plug bayonet, in which the hilt of the bayonet (or just a handy knife) would be forced into the muzzle of the musket. This, of course, means that the musketeers can't reload. Only after the development of the socket bayonet could musketeers defend themselves against hostile pikes and cavalry while still being able to reload. Once the socket bayonet became common, pikes faded and were gone from European battlefields by the early 18th century. Further, because of the extreme inaccuracy of the matchlock and the flintlock smoothbore musket, firearms where not point weapons, where the musketeers aimed for a particular target. Most muskets didn't even have sights. No, the entire musket regiment was an area weapon, designed to throw a lot of fast-moving metal at the opposition in the hopes that something would hit. Mostly nothing did. Up until the French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars, most infantry battles were decided by bayonet charges. (Pike charges back in the days of pikes, of course.) The Crimean War, the Sepoy Rebellion, and the American Civil War were all fought with muzzle-loading rifled muskets and all had heavy casualties because now the prime killers were rifles, accurate to long range, able to be reloaded fairly quickly (one round every 10 to 15 seconds). By the end of the American Civil War, magazine-fed, metallic cartridge, breech-loading rifles and the first machine guns, plus the primitive ancestors of modern artillery, ruled the battlefield. At Little Big Horn, the Indians had magazine rifles and Custer's troops had single-shot rifles (the American War Office felt that giving troops a lot of ammunition would cause them to waste it) and the results spoke for themselves. Around the same time, two battalions of British infantry with artillery support were overwhelmed by a mass human wave charge at Isandlwana; one company held out against mass attacks at Rorke's Drift. Zulu casualties were extremely heavy. In all the world only the Zulu, or, possibly, the Japanese, would have pressed home a charge with what amounted to short pikes into the teeth of rifle fire supported by field artillery. Any European army would have broken. Once the Zulu got into effective range, it was game over. Mass charges work... if allowed in close enough.

        1. Mooseman Silver badge

          Re: Theory vs HE

          To be fair, the troops at Isandlwana had lots of guns. They just had no usable ammunition for them, so once the first few volleys were fired it was down to hand-to-hand combat with rather a lot of Zulus.

        2. Santa from Exeter

          Re: Theory vs HE

          Good post, but a couple of common misconceptions which only become apparent when actually using the weapons in question.

          Matchlocks are actually *more* reliable in the rain (and generally) than flintlocks, the match can be kept in a specially designed cover and only brought out immediately before using, whereas the frizzen (the case hardened steel face that the flint strikes to generate the sparks) on the flintlock is always exposed to the weather. Additionally, good quality match (actually made by soaking cord in saltpetre) burns pretty hot, so the main issue is 'keeping your powder dry' :-) The main problem with flintlocks is that you are hoping that 1, enough sparks are produced and 2. they end up in the priming powder. Wheellocks are better in this respect, as they produce a *lot* more sparks, however, as you state, they need to be 'spanned' regularly. Flintlocks offered no quicker rate of fire, as they were still muzzle loading. The use of cartridges could speed up the loading process somewhat, but the black powder was issued loose, requiring the cartridges to be made up in advance..

          The idea of 'massed charges' of Pikemen is inaccurate. Pike formations are fairly cumbersome and, as such, trying to move at speed negates the effectiveness as they quickly become disorganised. In reality, the 'Press of Pike' usually happened fairly late on in a battle, when your enemy was either short of powder or had his nerve severely rattled by the cavalry if they used the more modern Swedish charge rather than the earlier tactic of riding in Caracole. All this relates to the early to mid 17thC, both during the '30 Years War' on the continent and the 'War of the Three Kingdoms (AKA English Civil War) here in Blighty.

  10. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Stop

    Better build more ships, Britain!

    "each carrier will need, at the very least, both a frigate and a destroyer as escorts; the frigate to detect submarines, the destroyer to maintain an anti-aircraft screen"

    Um, barring actual wartime emergency brought on by casualties, the U.S. navy would never put a CVN to sea with just one anti-submarine and one air-defense ship as an escort, even assuming that the RN will also have an attack sub accompanying the carrier on an outer anti-sub/shipping ring. One air defense ship is basically begging anything that can launch 20-40 sea-skimming missiles to turn your new carrier into the world's largest fish tank sunken galleon. Plus only a couple anti-sub escorts increases the chance that a sub will get close enough to use guided torpedoes.

    I guess Britain's future wartime naval/naval aviation strategy is to message the nearest U.S. carrier group with "Going my way?" at the start of hostilities?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Better build more ships, Britain!

      At least female hitchhikers can show some flesh to increase the likelihood of a positive response to "Going my way?". In this case, it will be "Somewhow, I have decided to go your way"

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: Better build more ships, Britain!

      Better build more ships, Britain!

      No. Better arm them.

      Britain is the ONLY top-10 military/naval power that has NO OFFENSIVE NAVAL ARMAMENT DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM. At all.

      1. The Russians have invested ungodly amount into that and probably are the clearly leaders in this field with the various Sunburn/Onyx versions (in addition to the electronic upgrades to the old Granit/Basalat).

      2. India has the supersonic Brahmos developed jointly with the Russians.

      3. China has bought and copied the Sunburn and has some indigenous development of missiles that go supersonic and evasive in final approach.

      4. France is building next generation of anti-ship missiles. So is Germany, Sweden, Italy and all other weapon export manufacturing usual suspects.

      5. Even Iran is developing these as fast as it can and some of its latest stuff does not look like wet firecrackers.

      Even minor powers are looking at what they can cobble together in this area.

      Britain has f*** all has f*** all planned and does not even have ships designed to be able to accommodate anything in the future. It is not developing anything either.

  11. M7S

    Out of interest

    Was it "the navy", "the MOD" or "the treasury" who decided that the new carriers should be built without the capability to operate carrier based aircraft from any of our other allies (you know, just in case one finds itself in unexpected need of a dry spot, or that we might support them in some venture) and also the need to either return to port regularly or require a relatively vulnerable ship full of flammable stuff to pop along frequently if things are hotting up somewhere without a friendly port nearby?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: Out of interest

      I believe it was an assumption made in MoD in the early stages of the project. Ie the replacement for a VSTOL carrier is a VSTOL carrier.

      1. 's water music

        Re: Out of interest

        I believe it was an assumption made in MoD in the early stages of the project. Ie the replacement for a VSTOL carrier is a VSTOL carrier.

        To be fair, they did specify that the carriers should be capable of being reconfigured for catapults. They simply forgot to agree a price cap for this lower than the cost of simply ordering a brand-new ship. You don;t win defence contracts without being smart enough to spot an opportunity like that.

        1. GrumpyKiwi

          Re: Out of interest

          I think part of the cost problem with the catapults was that it was specified that the EMALS electro-magnetic catapult system be used - something that the US is only just getting operational now. Kind of hard to plan/build around a system that may need major changes.

          As an alternative though, post WW2 the RN experimented with (slow burning) cordite powered catapults before settling on steam power. Cordite catapults would require very little change to the deck etc. of the QE2's. Not nearly as fancy and sci-fi as using magnets, but able to be done cheap and easy - the RN's two favourite words at the moment.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Out of interest

            "I think part of the cost problem with the catapults was that it was specified that the EMALS electro-magnetic catapult system be used - something that the US is only just getting operational now. Kind of hard to plan/build around a system that may need major changes."

            The truth, as ever, is more complicated than that. I was involved in some of this work nearly two decades ago. All of the options were laid before the people responsible for making a decision with detailed discussions and pros and cons of each alternative. There were strongly worded recommendations in favour of particular technologies and strategies. These recommendations did not come from salesmen, they came from independent engineers and scientists.

            Three government administrations who would prefer to think that a war is never going to happen and who were more focussed on bread and circuses than on Defence of the Realm cut away at the programme. That's why we are where we are with carriers that have no aircraft.

            Still slightly better than the French who built an aircraft carrier to the wrong dimensions so they couldn't transfer their aircraft below deck because the lift was too small.

            1. Sandy5252

              Re: Out of interest

              All this BS just shows are senior Civil Servants are not capable of running a fish and chip shop never mind plan for the defense requirements of the UK. Our senior Armed forces officers have let us and the country down. They are highly paid and supposedly professional and have a responsibility to the UK. I have not seen one statement from any senior office actually stating the real truth ( or close to it) about the lack of capabilities of the Navy, Army or AirForce.

              SHAME on them.

    2. StuartMil

      Re: Out of interest

      From other Register reports, the design brief and requirements, were for them to be able to be fitted with catapults and traps... but it didn't get included. And when one of our recent governmint's started talking about fitting them, the "usual defence industry suspects" started bandying about figures in the billions despite the US contractors being reported as saying that they would fit them for free-ish (as they needed a test-bed). It couldn't have been anything to do with their potential loss of sales from expensive STOVL aircraft if the carriers were made capable of using F/A-18's (as they were meant to be designed to)...

  12. Captain Badmouth
    FAIL

    The Senior service

    has had a senior moment or two recently.

    Or is it the MOD?

    1. SkippyBing Silver badge

      Re: The Senior service

      It's the Treasury/Government who won't fund the military to do what they want it to but make them do it anyway. Hence RFA and other vessels being pressed in to do the job of a Frigate or Destroyer because the original T45 order was cut in half.

  13. Potemkine Silver badge

    "money is now in place to put this right". Indeed, "if they weren't up to the job then the US and French navies would not entrust them with protection of their aircraft carriers in the Gulf."

    Neither US (with Aegis classes) nor French (F70 / Horizon classes) navies require the Royal Navy to protect their aircraft carriers... however what the admiral admits there is that the RN is now a second-class navy, with no aeronautical capabilities, unable to strike anywhere, anyhow.

  14. Blodwinj

    Apparently the RN is contemplating raising the profile of a rather old military tactic "The Ram" in the current series of operational manuals for command officers.

    "It's difficult to get the training in for this particular tactic but we must persevere." says M Falloff,a spokething for the UK Minister of Defence ,going on to say "Our ships are virtually unarmed anyway and we almost might as well not have any ...there are thus positive sides in bringing this tactic to the fore as there will be significant savings to be made on paying personnel and indeed on ship maintenance costs once the tactic has been fully introduced and indeed implemented."

    "As an aside I wish now to thank all those RN personnel serving on these ships for their loyalty and indeed courage"

    Falloff indicated that this last statement would save time and indeed "some red faces " at PMQs ass (Not a mistake) the traditional mention of those who had lost their lives serving their country could now be dispensed with ."It'd probably take up a tad too much time during a conflict" he went on to say

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