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The recent defence command paper has shed some clarity on the future of the Royal navy which will, it appears, be expected to meet a broad gamut of missions across the spectrum of operations. However, the paper and the integrated review have both underscored that the carrier-centric nucleus of the Royal navy’s capacity for high end warfighting will be available to NATO. Beyond the Euro-Atlantic, the Royal Navy will primarily be committed to presence and engagement. In this task assets such as the Batch II OPV, the Type 31 Frigate and the forces comprising one of two envisioned littoral readiness groups will be key, although this engagement may be supported by the higher end components of the fleet. In addition, the Royal Navy will contribute to securing critical infrastructure such as undersea cables - a task for which it will receive a multi-role ocean surveillance ship.
The navy’s envisioned force structure to meet these missions will see both of its aircraft carriers enter service, and will see capabilities such as its Albion-class landing platform dock (LPD) retained. The fleet will go through a temporary trough in capacity as two Type 23 Frigates are retired before originally envisioned, to be replaced by the Type 31 later in the decade. The procurement plan envisioned will also see the Type 32 frigate join the force further down the road. Other significant developments are plans to move ahead with the procurement of an interim anti-ship missile to replace the Harpoon and the replacement of the navy’s mine-counter measures (MCM) vessels with an automated minehunting solution.
The force that emerges from this process is one structured around three tiers. The first tier is a low intensity force built around vessels such as OPVs, the Type 31 and the Commando elements deploying assets such as the Strategic roll-on-roll-off (RoRo). This represents a force which is capable of supporting operations autonomously in relatively permissive circumstances and aggregating with higher end assets in higher intensity scenarios. The second tier of the force, to which assets such as the commando forces’ LPDs as well as future platforms like the envisioned Type 32 Frigate will likely be key, can support the first tier should the intensity of competition escalate. Finally, at the highest level, assets such as the Type 45, Type 26 and the Queen Elizabeth class comprise a force that is capable of supporting engagement but is primed for warfighting.
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