Future Martime Surveillance

FMS 005

Written evidence from Squadron Leader R W Forbes


1. The Defence Committee has announced a new enquiry into the contribution made by the MoD and UK Armed Forces for Maritime Surveillance (MS) and what the future requirements may be. On any map you care to look at the UK is an island. Homeland Security, overseas trade and power projection demand we maintain our free passage at sea. We should have the ability to legally operate worldwide unhindered alongside our allies in this environment. In this submission I intend to give an overview of recent and current MS capability, the need for this capability and what shape a future force would need to be to be politically and militarily viable.

Non Military Surveillance.

2. At this point I must stress that MS is not just about the military seeking out other military units in some sort of dated pre-World War 3 scenario. Post 9/11 the detection of terrorist activity, human trafficking and drug running are more important now than ever. The coverage of the current piracy related crimes in the Horn of Africa highlight that this is not just a warship v warship war-game. Realistically this is the new military and international front line for governments, politicians and their electorate. The upstream detection and prevention of illegal individuals or threatening actions by rogue nations is paramount for the safety and security of our citizens at home and abroad as well as out dependencies and overseas interests.

Previous Capability.

3. Prior to the implementation of the decisions made in the Governments Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) the UK Maritime Surveillance Capability was covered by a triumvirate of mutually beneficial and complimentary forces. MS was carried out in 3 major areas which overlapped to provide a comprehensive and secure maritime environment. The main the forces involved were the RAF Nimrod Force alongside the Royal Navy Submarine Service and Surface Warship fleet with embarked Fleet Air Arm Helicopter Support. In simplistic terms the Nimrod force was responsible for long range detection and localisation of any threat or target, human or mechanical. Once localisation was achieved the RN surface force and its airborne assets would maintain tracking of any suspect vessel until a RN submarine could be established in close proximity when if necessary a long term trail of possible hostile or illegal vessels could be maintained. The final outcome could well involve handing over suspect individuals or vessels to civilian law enforcement agencies.

The Threat.

4. Obviously there is no need for a capability if it has no adversary to counter so what is the threat. In old fashioned terms there are 2 types of maritime surveillance, those being Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) and Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW). Both of these competencies should fit seamlessly into the commanders Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) picture.

5. ASW is the art of localisation, tracking and if necessary destruction of subsurface forces in the shape of enemy submarines and even more recently drug running vessels. The enemy submarine is a significant threat to both other submarines and surface vessels as was so vividly demonstrated in the Battle of the Atlantic against the German U Boat threat. Whereas the numbers of submarines worldwide within foreign navies is dramatically reduced from the days of the U boat, there capability is significantly more potent and there detection equally manpower and technically demanding. Whilst the modern enemy submarine has been rarely used offensively in recent times it has a significant surveillance and intelligence collection capability and is potent symbol of sea power. This can be seen in the effect that an extremely small number of RN submarine units had in the South Atlantic during the Falklands Conflict almost single headedly nullified the Argentine Naval threat. Its ability to operate almost in total tactical freedom demonstrates the difficulty in detecting and destroying this impressive capability.

6. In many ways ASUW possess the same problem but is considered an easier threat to nullify. The fact that your adversary is on or above the surface makes them much more susceptible to radar and Electronic Surveillance Measures (ESM) detection. Technically this may be the case but it has its own unique problems that have to be countered. In ASW the perceived enemy spend much if not all of its time below the surface and hence has great difficult in creating its own maritime picture of what units, friendly or hostile, are in its vicinity. The ASUW unit has a much better ISTAR capability and as such your counter force has to have a range of overt and covert sensors.

Detection Sensors.

7. To detect either the ASW or ASuW unit a range of sophisticated and integrated sensors are required. The detection of ASW forces is mainly done by the use of Passive and Active Sonar. Passive Sonar is the art of listening for the unique sounds produced by an opposing submarine or military force and then localising their position. Passive Sonar is considered a covert search system and you would hope to achieve detection and localisation with being detected yourself. Active Sonar is used primarily to accurately achieve an attack solution though this is not always your requirement. Active sonar can be used as a deterrent in order to advertise that you either know where the enemy force is or the fact you are proactively searching for it. It can be used to sanitise a chosen area of any subsurface threat. The exploitation of the inherent magnetic signature of a submarine can be achieved at long and short ranges with the use of a Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD)system.

8. For ASUW the primary search tools are Radar and Electronic Surveillance Systems (ESM). The use of Radar loses any covertness you may wish to achieve but it can detect both large and small surface units at varying ranges from single to hundreds of miles depending on Radar cross section and environmental conditions. ESM can accurately position a source and its capability by correlation of radar type to weapon system.

Previous Force Capability.

9. Since the Battle of the Atlantic the UK has been at the forefront of Maritime Surveillance and maintained an enviable world-wide reputation for excellence. The UK has always possessed a Long Range Maritime Patrol Aircraft (LRMPA) capability. Laterally the RAF Nimrod force was fitted with all the sensors required for ASW and ASUW and could achieve blanket area coverage at a long distance from friendly or hostile shores. Its speed and endurance allowed it to quickly search at distance and to quickly react to the latest intelligence picture. For both ASW and ASuW it was the platform of choice at the beginning of any maritime operation.

10. The RN surface force is comparable to the LRMPA but at much shorter distances and with a significantly reduced reactive capability. As part of the continued post war military drawdown the paucity of assets often resulted in units being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Force generation is significantly longer but once established can maintain a significant and viable long term presence. The helicopter assets which can be embarked with these units have a relatively good sensor fit but are short on capability and endurance compared to their Nimrod counterpart.

11. The RN submarine is a potent offensive and defensive capability. It suffers from many of the constraints of the surface force. It has difficulties getting an accurate intelligence picture and positioning accordingly but once established in position its stealth, endurance and firepower make it a truly threatening adversary.

Independent Nuclear Deterrent (IND).

12. Before continuing there is more to maritime surveillance than seeking out potential enemy forces or criminal individuals. One of the primary tasks for our maritime forces is the protection of the UK Independent Nuclear Deterrent. This has been at the core of maritime surveillance since this weapon system became operational. Should an enemy force be allowed to establish itself in the vicinity of our IND then it is no longer a truly valid deterrent. With the debate on the next generation of SLBMs just beginning its own vulnerability to and protection from detection cannot be over stressed.

Post SDSR current maritime capability.

13. With no apparent policy change in sight in 2012 we have no LRMPA capability. Due to ever reducing numbers RN assets will be sparse with poor regeneration times. This will be exacerbated should we wish to maintain assets east of Suez and in the South Atlantic. Due to a lack of assets and technical sophistication the UK Borders Agency can only maintain a very limited coastal surveillance suitable for fishery protection and/or drug and human trafficking.

14. In its wisdom, driven by budgetary constraints, the UK government decided to cancel the replacement LRMPA (Nimrod MRA4) at the expense of maintaining an unbalanced air defence posture. The demise of the ageing and unfairly criticised Mk 2 Nimrod aircraft has left a strategic hole in our defensive and offensive military posture. I believe I speak with authority when I say we have no independent long range ASW or ASuW capability. This lack of capability applies across the whole spectrum I have previously outlined. Suggestions that the use of the RAF E3 platform, the C130 Hercules, Shadow, embarked or shore based helicopter assets can duplicate the LRMPA capability is false. There are no RAF military assets which have the necessary sensor fit or crew competency to carry out effective MS. For the same reason the provision of the UAV will not counter the ASW or ASUW threat.

15. Comparable reductions of the RN surface fleet have meant that whilst they maintain an ASW and ASuW capability force generation and positioning are woefully limited and protracted. The recent anchoring of a Russian Naval task force East of Shetland only highlights this problem with the RN apparently only able to intercept these units as they approached our shores. The RN intercepting vessel had to be dispatched from a base in Southern England. With no LRMPA and limited RN assets the ability to get eyes on these units at a strategically greater distance was impossible.

16. The RN submarine fleet has rightly been heavily involved in the conflicts of Iran and Afghanistan and if necessary could play a significant role in the current Straits of Hormuz tensions. If preparing a submarine to operate within the UK Area of Responsibility (UKAOR) is a logistic and cost effective nightmare, how difficult is it to maintain a 24/7 presence at the range the Middle East constraints. Proposed limited numbers of Astute Class submarines will only exacerbate this problem.

17. There are a number of other space and airborne based intelligence systems which can give Indications and Warnings (IAW) of a threatening maritime environment. These should not be necessarily be ignored but they cannot carry the sensor capability to cover the range of skill sets needed to meet the disparate demands of ASW and ASuW.

18. In the short term the MoD has instigated a Seed Corn programme whereby a small number of the Nimrod MS force have been sent to the US to maintain their skill sets in the off chance that we procure another LRMPA. This is a sensible initiative but without a LRMPA procurement initiative its long term commitment is questionable.

Future Strategic Requirements.

19. It has never been easy to accurately militarily look too far into the future. The relatively recent areas of conflict reflect this dilemma. The Falklands War, The Balkans, post 9/11 conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Somali Piracy problem and tensions in the Straits of Hormuz. A possibility of another Falklands conflict cannot be discounted. It is because of these disparate mainly maritime threats that we need to maintain an integrated and viable maritime force.

20. There is not one individual panacea that will meet all scenarios but the primary lynchpin of maritime surveillance is already missing. To be effective IAW should be achieved at the earliest opportunity so that an eyes-on situation can be rapidly established. Perhaps this is the modern equivalent of gunship diplomacy but it does get your message across.

21. The constant reduction of the RN surface and subsurface fleet will mean that the ability to operate in more than one theatre at any one time is impossible. Unless funding is found to maintain and even expand the RN capability future reductions may make it impossible to defend the homeland and operate overseas without significant and I believe unacceptable Risk.

22. Whilst it would not by any means be the maritime panacea I believe that the procurement of a viable and capable LRMPA is a political and military necessity. This platform can be built to meet all current and future threat scenarios, operate at long range from the UK mainland and with ally support in a truly world-wide capacity. To achieve this the platform by necessity has to have the capability to carry a significant sensor, surveillance and weapons inventory. A coastal surveillance platform would not provide adequate endurance or the area search capability required. I do not believe that there is a realistic Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) which could remotely meet this challenge. Much of the skills of maritime surveillance involve what could be considered as the black arts which requires the timely consideration of the human interface with the detection sensor enhancing the ability to prosecute the probable and discount the impossible.

Ally Collaboration.

23. Much has been made since SDSR of the coalition of military forces through our allies to achieve a beneficial political or military outcome. Firstly you cannot have a truly independent nuclear deterrent if you are dependent on another nation being involved in its defence. Nation building is only easy when everyone is searching for the same outcome. A combined force against terrorism seems obvious, but the support for such is patchy and uneven. If you look at any of the recent areas of conflict the UK always bats well above its pay grade and strives to meet its obligations. Apart from the US how any other countries can we say that about? The Libyan conflict proved that even within Europe there is a significant variation on what nations say they will support never mind actually put their money where their mouth is.

24. I accept that defence is expensive. I do not believe it is not the sort of process you can agree to just share with another nation in the hope that each party will do their little bit unless you are willing to accept huge risk to our national interest at home and abroad. Our own current political government shows just how hard any form of coalition is never mind one with international partners and such potential huge consequences if poorly managed.


25. Financial constraints have meant that the MoD has had to take its share of the pain in UK Government funding. From an RAF point of view SDSR has left the UK with an unbalanced air power capability which focuses on Air Defence against what threat? It is a homeland defence force which can only operate overseas as part of a coalition. UK PLC does not have the capability to carry out the suppression of an overseas hostile air force without Ally Support.

26. The provision of a capable LRMPA totally helps transform the UKs military posture. It can provide IAW at the earliest possible point and follow up this intelligence by prosecuting unilaterally if required. It could possess a significant multi role weapons delivery package and would easily integrate within the overall UK military posture as well as those of our Allies. Whilst not within the remit of MS, if you look at the capabilities of the Nimrod MR2 force it is obvious that it was a truly multi role aircraft which provided much needed support to virtually all aspects of the MoD policy.

27. The Seed Corn initiative to maintain MS experience levels in the UK is a laudable attempt to protect our airborne maritime capability but it is a fragile programme which will wither on the vine unless there is the promise of regenerating our own MS capability. The destruction of the Nimrod MRA4 without the foresight to provide an alternate platform may have been politically necessary but was militarily short sighted in the extreme.

28. This paper has concentrated purely on the MS capability which I believe is now so very lacking. Provision of a capable LRMPA with well-trained crews would help re-balance and enhance our military capability at a stroke.

March 2012

Prepared 2nd April 2012