LONDON ― The British Royal Navy is on a technology drive to rapidly increase capability, but may have to pay the price with the removal of platforms, the First Sea Lord Adm. Philip Jones said in a speech at the DSEI 2017 show Tuesday.
Jones outlined numerous programs to drive capabilities at sea: the introduction of a new compact deployable IT system; hydrographic capability; and plans to accelerate the delivery of future mine countermeasures, and test flights for a remotely piloted helicopter from the deck of a Type 23 frigate next year. It’s all part of a blitz to up the pace of technology introduction in the Royal Navy.
But, he warned, the Royal Navy might have to sacrifice platforms to pay for the technology uplift.
“Are we, for instance, prepared to remove existing platforms from service in order to create the financial and manpower headroom to introduce new systems. which, in time, could deliver truly transformative advances in capability?” he asked the crowd.
The Royal Navy has little room for growth on either the financial or manpower fronts, and all the armed services in the U.K. are already under heavy pressure to find what the Ministry of Defence euphemistically refers to as efficiency savings.
With the government conducting a capability review, which some are calling a mini-strategic defense and security review, it’s possible programs and capabilities may have to go anyway.
Jones said the rapid introduction of technology carried risk but that maintaining the status quo was not an option.
“A degree of risk is inevitable, but then nothing in innovation or warfare has ever been achieved by playing it safe; and as I see it, the biggest risk of all is carrying on as we are,” he said.
Over time innovation could deliver the Royal Navy “truly transformative advances in capability,” he said.
Last year’s Unmanned Warrior and the more recent Information Warrior exercises conducted by the Navy served as wake-up calls for just how far industry had come on the technology front.
To better take advantage of such advancements Jones said the Navy was ready to shift the process of trial and experimentation from the exercise arena to the operational theater.
“That’s why we have deployed three unmanned underwater vessels on board the survey ship HMS Enterprise during her current NATO deployment,” Jones said.
The Navy is also looking to reduce technology updates by introducing open architecture into operational service far more widely. Later this year the Type 23 HMS Westminster will go to sea fitted with an open architecture shared infrastructure, which will enable the rapid integration and development of new capabilities.
“If successful, we will roll this system out to the rest of the Type 23s by 2020, and the remainder of the fleet thereafter,” he said.
Unsurprisingly the new Type 31e frigate will be designed with open architecture from the outset.
But, said Jones, the Royal Navy needed to do more.
“The aim is to accelerate the incremental delivery of our future MHC program. Our intention is to deliver an unmanned capability for routine mine countermeasure tasks in U.K. waters in two years’ time, “ said the First Sea Lord.
“Similarly, from what we’ve seen over the past two years, we know it should be perfectly possible for the Type 31e frigate to operate a vertical lift unmanned air system alongside, or perhaps even in place of a manned helicopter, from the moment the first ship enters service from 2023.
“As a precursor to this, we plan to work with our partners in the aerospace industry to demonstrate such a capability on a Type 23 frigate next year.”
Leonardo Helicopters in the U.K. is currently working on a two-year phase two of a rotary wing unmanned air system capability concept demonstrator for the MoD. An SW-4 Solo based vehicle participated in Unmanned Warrior.
John Ponsonby, the managing director of Leonardo’s helicopter operations in the U.K., said he expected a phase three to follow to develop a one-to-three tonne unmanned rotary wing platform for the British.
It’s not just major programs where technology is offers a speedy introduction of a capability hike to the British.
Jones gave the example of a compact deployable information system capability developed by Antillion, a small Bristol, South West England-based company who had joined forces with the Royal Navy’s MarWorks innovation group and the Governments Defence Science and Technology Laboratories to accelerate the development phase of their CDISC Early Entry product.
“We put it to use in ‘Information Warrior’ and, liking what we saw, we’ve decided to introduce it in place of 3 Commando Brigade’s current IT straight away,” he said.