Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Royal Navy Deployment Cycles

Just the other day I was involved in a discussion over at Think Defence about patrol ships replacing frigates and destroyers for some Royal Navy tasks. In order to help land lubbers such as myself better understand the number of frigates or destroyers needed to generate a given task, I asked a serving Royal Navy officer just that question; how many ships do you need to cover a given task, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days per year?

The answer was very thorough, informative and very interesting. For that reason I'd like to reproduce the comment here, so others who didn't see it may do so, and also to preserve it for future reference. Other than the very first line, which wasn't really part of the explanation and has thus been deleted, I'm going to reproduce it unedited, marked in italics.

I should also point out that before posting this I sought the permission of both the author of the comment (APATS) and the admin at Think Defence, both of whom kindly agreed to let me do this. The article and its comments can be found here.

"It really depends upon the location of the task and how you man the Ships. 3 Ships to cover 1 Task 24/7/365 is about right. That is to have a Ship in the AOR at all times. You would struggle to do that indefinitely with only 3 Ships though as all 3 of those ships would have to be running and not in refit. Also ships that are in that 1 in 3 cycle but back in Uk could still be FRE or TAPs or cover the training tasks.

So if Ship A has just taken over on op Kipion and Ship B is heading back to the UK Ship C which will be 5 months away from deploying to relieve Ship A will begin to tailor her programme to achieve that.

Let’s leave Ship A safely in the Gulf and B on its way back.

Ops on ship C now has a pretty exhaustive list of boxes to tick before deployment day. This will vary depending upon whether the Ship has come out of deep maintenance/refit or not.

Obviously for a ship coming out of maintenance or refit the trial process etc extends for longer. So if we say that Ship C has come out of a AMP but not refit so has kept her ships company pretty much intact but has had a few systems altered and upgrades fitted.

Planning meetings over the previous couple of months will have been interesting as every department imagines they are the most important.
First of all as series of Harbour trials will have to be completed. once this has been done a series of sea trials will be done to prove that materially the Ship has been put back together properly. this can take a few weeks.

Meanwhile Ship A happily enters its second month on station and Ship B has returned and gone on leave.

Once ship C is happy it is in a decent material state the countdown to Operational Sea training begins in earnest.
Department heads will begin to look at their training serial priorities, assets will be booked etc and the Ship along with some external help will prepare itself for approximately 6 weeks of Operational sea training at Devonport.

Ship C in the mean time will have returned from leave and will be doing post deployment maintenance assuming their Ship is not going into refit. They will not however unless extremely unlucky be the Ship slotted to eventually relieve Ship C in 9 months time.

With just less than 3 months to go Ship C has completed shake down and taken a couple of weeks leave.
Ship A is probably in her mid deployment AMP somewhere for a couple of weeks.
Ship B if not in refit has slotted into the UK tasking cycle of training, FRE or TAPS as required.

Assuming Ship C passes OST she will take pre deployment leave then deploy.
Ship A will get ready to return when relieved.
Ship B has been told that she is becoming Ship C in another cycle and will deploy to the Falklands in 6 months.
ship D takes the place of Ship C in the Gulf cycle.

you then have about 3 weeks including a weeks training in the Med for ship C to transit out and 2 weeks for Ship a to transit back.

Upon return Ship A does what Ship B previously did or enters refit.
Ship C is the deployed asset.
Ship D goes through the process Ship C did.

Refit periods are also planned in reducing the available numbers in the different cycles.

At the moment we have cycles like that going for the 2 Kipion escorts and the APT(S)."


  1. So, at best, the UK would have 2 air defence destroyers available.

    The reality therefore, is that we have, willingly or not, given up fleet operations.

    £9 billion a year is a hell of a lot of expense for a navy capable of acting only when supported by someone else.

  2. We gave up fleet operations years ago TRT!

    The way to look at the RN deployment ability is to look at both the standing tasks, and also the RFTG. The RN is fully capable of operating independently and does so daily.

    The reality is that every navy in the world has the same cycles, issues and problems.

    Chris - cracking article!

  3. Sir H
    Which leaves "£9bn per year is an awful lot to pay for the privalage of sending warships out only American protection"

  4. Sir H, cheers!

    TrT, Although the Royal Navy doesn't operate "fleets" perhaps in the American sense, the Royal Navy does effectively run two mini-fleets. One is the independently deployed vessels, which cover a number of standing tasks simultaneously in a manner that no other fleet short of the US really can. The other is the RFTG, which is a sizable force in its own right.

    If needed an RFTG could be assembled that incorporated some of the worlds best anti-submarine frigates, sailing alongside some of the worlds best anti-air destroyers, supporting a significant amphibious assault capability and in the future an aircraft carrier. That's still an impressive capability to deploy. Certainly not one to be sniffed at.