The Watch recently discussed the Royal Navy’s littoral strike capability with Justin Hains MBE, a former Royal Navy officer and current Business Development Manager for Forcys. The Royal Navy has a significant capability to strike land targets thanks to its two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, which are together capable of carrying up to 80 aircraft, including F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters. The carriers are also supported by a range of other vessels, including destroyers, frigates, logistic support ships and submarines.
Hains believes that the Royal Navy has an advanced littoral strike capability. He said: “You need to understand that the capability is absolutely there. The core of power projection is the two carriers and then everything builds from them. There’s a submarine capability to defend the carrier, and there’s a hydrographic and mine countermeasures capability to enable the carrier freedom of navigation so that the carriers can get to where they need to operate. The escorts provide a defensive screen and an ability to distribute the force in smaller packages as required. This capability has been many years in the planning and recent geopolitical events, if anything, further validate the Royal Navy’s approach”.
In addition to the Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, the Royal Navy is also investing in a range of other capabilities that will support littoral strike operations. These include:
- The Type 26 frigate, which will be equipped with a range of anti-ship and land-attack missiles.
- The Type 31 frigate, which will be a smaller, more affordable frigate that will be well-suited to littoral operations.
- The Littoral Response Group, which will provide an amphibious option, either in concert with Carrier Strike or separately.
Innovation where it is needed
Hains points out: “These strategic decisions ensure that the Royal Navy has a strong littoral strike capability for many years to come. However, the renewed threat of near-peer adversaries is more real than ever before. To meet this challenge, the Royal Navy is going to need to adapt its capabilities and strategies. The focus on littoral strike is a big step in the right direction. The navy now needs to invest in new technologies to complement its existing assets. Investment in uncrewed systems increases our surveillance range and improves our strike capability. Techniques like machine learning (ML) will be used to automate tasks and make decisions in real time.” But it’s not just technology. “In addition to investing in new technologies, the Royal Navy will also need to adapt its operational concepts. The navy will need to be able to operate more flexibly and at higher tempo. It will need to adapt to the foe and generate a response by selecting the right mix. At times the navy will operate in smaller, more distributed units. At times it will resort to conventional weaponry. At all times the Royal Navy will need to work closer with its allies and partners”.
According to Hains, if navies are going to defeat the emergent threats, then they need to be successful in fielding new technologies: “We need to deliver innovative solutions to put in front of the navy in a very rapid way. If you ask me, I think we’re getting there but to be honest the procurement process is still playing catch-up. Many initiatives are supporting rapid innovation and encouraging war fighters to be involved in their development from early stages. At Forcys, we are clutched into all of that, and we are part of the ongoing discussion. However, we recognise that defence as a whole will always have a problem with annualised budgets. These make it very difficult to launch multi-year projects. I know this is being worked on. And I accept that the commercial teams in front line commands can only change as fast as the next level allows them, but we need to feed back to defence to help them be as flexible in procuring innovation as they are when it comes to field it. You are going to see industry and defence working together and needing to be ready to take calculated risks.”
Dominance in the underwater domain will be critical to enable the littoral strike capability. As Hains explains: “It all comes down to the use of use of asymmetric force. You’re trying to get the most effect for the least resource you apply your strengths against your enemy’s weaknesses. In the underwater domain this arms race is taking place against a backdrop where the sensors and effectors are going to be required to operate at far higher speed and more integrated than ever before. It’s not going to be good enough to take a position, course and a speed from one sensor and plug those numbers into a weapon to then release it. All of this information has to be exchanged electronically and very quickly, because underwater vehicles, especially weapon systems, are going to get faster; so response times are going to have come down.”
The Importance of Underwater Networks
As Hains noted in the interview, an effective underwater network is essential for the Royal Navy to be able to conduct littoral strike operations. “An underwater network would allow the navy to share information and coordinate actions between its unmanned systems and manned ships. This would allow the navy to operate more effectively and efficiently and would give it a significant advantage over its adversaries.”
One year on
It’s been one year since Hains joined the Forcys project, he was here while the launch was being planned and participated on the launch in UDT 2022 in Rotterdam. How has it been? “I’m still absolutely thrilled to be part of something that feels really fresh, really exciting, and exactly what defence is looking for. It also feels good now that we’re getting more people in, and our expansion into the US and Australia is absolutely essential as we look towards AUKUS and other opportunities. I think there are so many synergies wrapped around AUKUS that we’re absolutely in the right place for it. I really feel like we’ve got the right model and the right recipe for success at just the right time. Especially when AUKUS rightly spins off underwater networks, defensive capabilities, and mine countermeasures capability to support anti-submarine warfare across shallow waters and confined spaces. I’m still amazed by the positive reaction I get from everyone when I explain why we created Forcys and what Forcys can offer. And I think if anything, we just need to go faster. That ability to really operate as that single point of contact will help us to accelerate again in terms of what we’re actually able to take on.”
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(Featured Image of HMS Queen Elizabeth in Gibraltar by David Jenkins – InfoGibraltar under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)