Minewarfare — A Serious Gap

GCYZ

Lantern Swinger
#1
Extract from All Party Reserve Forces Group report http://www.reserveforcesparliament.com/upload/upload15.pdf
Minewarfare — A Serious Gap
The Royal Navy remains a world leader in minewarfare and recently was involved in multinational efforts to clear the northern Persian Gulf. Historically the RNR provided a substantial pool of minewarfare expertise and manpower (something like 80%) of the RN's minesweeping capability. Until 1993 the RNR operated the vessels of MCM10, a squadron of 12 mine countermeasures vessels. The sweepers of the late 80s had a very specific war-role that has not been required since the end of the Cold War and capability is now delivered by the RN-manned Sandown Class.

The RNR still has expertise in minewarfare, and the Minewarfare Specialisation remains an important part of the RNR. This specialisation contains some 60 personnel, officers and senior rates, whose role is to deploy in a command and control (C2) function. Captain [named in original], the officer responsible for the RNR Minewarfare Services views the role of the specialisation as “providing the expert Minewarfare personnel at times they are required by the Fleet.†This is reflected in the way the Branch is manned and deployed: largely as expert personnel who slot into established headquarters and onto vessels. An RNR minewarfare team deployed to the Northern Gulf in March this year, at just two weeks notice. Minecountermeasures are intensive in terms of men and equipment.

Modern minecountermeasures vessels use high definition sonar and unmanned submersibles (called ‘REMUS’) to hunt mines. The sonar can find mines on the seabed or in mid-water by bouncing high frequency sound waves off them. The submersibles are then guided to the mine and destroy it using a high explosive charge. Before this, however, a diver is sent to gather intelligence about the mine — i.e. to disarm it and discover how it operates.

Beyond the headquarters function of the Mine Warfare Service, the RNR is building teams of divers for a new role known as Under-Water Force Protection. These divers do not do any deep sea diving — their role is to check harbours and ports before a ship arrives. They can seek out mines but have to rely on RN or Army bomb disposal (EOD) divers for destroying them. Given the high skills inherent in working with explosives under water, destruction of mines is perhaps best left to full timers, although the TA Sappers have a considerable (land-based) EOD capability. Two small RNR diving teams were deployed each for nine months on OP TELIC 1 and 2, in Iraq.

The Under-Water Force Protection Branch is only two years old, and consists of three teams comprising 12 men, which can be deployed as half teams or 12-man teams. All personnel are former full time military divers, experienced civilian divers supporting oil rigs in the North Sea or qualified sports divers. By March 2008 half the teams were at trained strength, and all teams will be ready by 2010. Reservists have to be kept ‘in date’ with their qualifications — lots of training is required, at some expense (due to the requisite support infrastructure — doctors, recompression chambers etc.).

Nevertheless the threat from mine warfare is intensifying. Mines are a cheap and effective way of denying areas of sea to an opposing naval force or civilian shipping — as reflected by their occasional use in the Gulf. Mine countermeasures vessels and dedicated personnel are expensive and intensive to maintain.

Inthe future it is possible that MCM capabilities will be a modular fit added to ships as required. The threat from maritime mining is serious — particularly to a country as dependent on maritime trade as the UK. 95% of all British imports, by weight, arrive by sea and Britain is critically short of port capacity for unloading containers. Even more important, stockpiles of many categories of food would last only a matter of days. The narrow, relatively shallow approach channels to many UK ports are intrinsically vulnerable. Sowing cheap, low-tech mines offers a good potential return to any terrorist.

A survey of each major port is normally undertaken every two years, to provide the essential sonar pictures needed as a backdrop for mine warfare. Nevertheless, faced with a serious threat from terrorists using mines, perhaps at several locations at once, the Royal Navy’s dedicated mine clearing capability would become quickly overstretched. This is an area where reservists could provide essential spare capacity at low cost or nil cost, if replacing a much smaller number of regular posts. It seems extraordinary, for example, that the RNR has no teams to operate REMUS. The regular teams clearly cannot work round the clock for very long and REMUS is deployable from small boats. Providing spare REMUS crews for defence of the UK (or a major crisis in the Gulf) would provide a substantial and very cheap force multiplier.

In this context there is a clear role also for the RNR Minewarfare Service as a pool of expert specialists — not only in the headquarters role but, as new ships move away from the specialist Minewarfare role, as specialist practitioners of minewarfare, UWFP divers, and submersible operators.
Will anybody Listen?
 
#2
Having read the document through I have to say it did seem like they had taken a good grasp of the situation at hand and were very pro reservist.

I'm assuming this has no relation to the coming review though? If not it will be interesting to see how they match up/differ. Excuse me if this is already out however if not, do we know when it will be?
 
#3
All Party Parliamentary Groups may produce reports but Ministers are under no obligation to even read them, unlike the reports produced by the Select Committees, so unless the Group's membership pursue the matter at a political level it is likely to be ignored.
 

P2000

Lantern Swinger
#4
Having been close to the drafting of the maritime section of the report I thought it might be useful to comment...

The group of MPs and peers who drafted the report are indeed very pro-Reservist (though admittedly a number of them are TA, rather than RNR or RAuxAF). The report followed a similar volume on the TA, and there are some common themes across the two volumes.

Ministers have been quite conciliatory towards the group, which has had a number of meetings with the reserve CoC as well. As All Party Groups go, it's quite effective.

The timing of the report was intended to preempt the MOD's own report, and there has been some follow up.

But as with all these things, time will tell its effectiveness.

Goes to show what a bit of decent lobbying could do for the RN, though!
 

P2000

Lantern Swinger
#6
The answers are a bit difficult..?

The people conducting the Review are previewing the outcomes at a meeting with MPs next week...
 

itsamuppet

Lantern Swinger
#8
Was there any mention of the Shallow Water Influnce team being manned by the RNR. this was a vital part of the minewarfare effort during Op Telic 1 and did have 3 members of the RNR in the team albeit at the last minute. This together with the Remus role would be ideal for those of us that now find ourselves guarding RFA's because we don't want to be stuck in an MCMA TA for the rest of our RNR career.
 

P2000

Lantern Swinger
#9
Sadly that's not in the report. If you've got some more detail PM me and I'll pass it onwards and upwards.
 
#10
itsamuppet said:
Was there any mention of the Shallow Water Influence team being manned by the RNR. this was a vital part of the minewarfare effort during Op Telic 1 and did have 3 members of the RNR in the team albeit at the last minute. This together with the Remus role would be ideal for those of us that now find ourselves guarding RFA's because we don't want to be stuck in an MCMA TA for the rest of our RNR career.
Unfortunately, you can't hang a permanent role on a UOR.
 

wave_dodger

MIA
Book Reviewer
#11
Naval_Gazer said:
Unfortunately, you can't hang a permanent role on a UOR.
Not true, should DEC ECC be persuaded that the capability is worth retaining they can choose to pull it into a core equipment programme and properly resource it. A good example will be Vector/Mastiff/Vixen, they will be brought into core yet are the results of some major FP UORs (£900m+).

The problem is with 400+ UORs there is simply not enough money to keep everything and once an Operation becomes a campaign bang goes all the reserve funding and with it the UORs. Note HERRICK is as of last week a campaign!

Having now received a small degree of education I now find myself appreciating the equipment programme issue from a different perspective. I now see that whilst we operated on Defence Assumptions derived for a broad 10-25 years view and we planned the EP against that we have been committed to two Medium Scale efforts (rightly or wrongly is irrelevant) that our crystal ball didn't see (because it can't predict the vagaries of political direction) and hence the EP has been blown apart by an unprecedented number of UORs needed to equip our forces for an asymmetric threat in a very hostile environment whilst at the same time trying to find the resources to keep building the forces we believe we will need for the medium-long term future.

Its a much deeper and far more interesting issue than I'd guessed :eek:mg:
 

Purple_twiglet

War Hero
Moderator
#12
WD - do we work together?

Totally untrue on HERRICK and UOR funding - no truth that about the Op / Campaign leading to no UOR funding. HMT will continue to cast a wary eye on all UORs submitted, particularly as our presence continues, but no signs of turning the tap off yet (certainly not as of this morning!)

Minor note too - DEC ECC don't pull into the Core EP - DEP decide on the programming, DEC ECC sign off of the business case (or so I understand it).
 

wave_dodger

MIA
Book Reviewer
#13
Sorry it's all true! HERRICK is now a campaign, HMT and MOD have agreed (initial est 1 epoch).

ECC are the people who look at capability/capability insertion and decide what is scheduled or put up as an option to be put into core by developing the business case for the JCb to endorse. DEP run the EP but take guidance from ECC. All of this is the now state there are big changes in the centre looming.

I work in NCHQ :whew:
 
#16
who_blue said:
Purple_twiglet said:
WD - PM sent.
Just as it was getting interesting... :D

Please excuse ignorance but what is a UOR?
A UOR is an Urgent Operational Requirement, normally raised to procure equipment urgently needed for a specific operation. Support funding usually ceases when the operation has been completed. If the equipment has been leased, it is returned to the provider.
 
#17
who_blue said:
Please excuse ignorance but what is a UOR?
Urgent Operational Requirement. Essentially a solution to a problem we hadn't realised we had which can be procured and delivered reasonably quickly with quite a lot less of the governance required in the normal Equipment Plan. In that sense I agree with both N_G and W_D. UORs aren't intended to be persistent, the capability gap should, in principle, then come into the EP and be dealt with through the proper process. In practice they just end up in competition with the big money pits and frequently fail to get through, so we end up running UORs through without proper support. The odd few do get brought across into core and the support mechanisms reverse engineered, but most just have to keep running forward on the basis of accounting smoke and mirrors and a lot of effort on the basis of individuals.

The system does tend to get abused by some quarters though, which undermines things a bit. Diemacos for 16AAB springs to mind as a hardy perennial.

In principle normal business shouldn't need them and while Treasury didn't pay too much attention in the wind up to Telic since about '05 they've been a bit more detailed in their questioning of why a UOR happens to be ''urgent'' or hasn't been addressed elsewhere.

fwiw I found that getting a UOR out the door was probably the most satisfying bit of the DPA job.
 

Purple_twiglet

War Hero
Moderator
#18
To echo Karma, the UOR process is a great process for getting kit into service in a hurry where there is a clear urgent requirement to do so. As TELIC / HERRICK carry on, HMT is understandably asking why we're failing to plan for the long haul in terms of the requirements out there.

They are great when someone says "buy me a capability to defeat this immensley specific threat for this sole theatre". No problems there, but when someone says "I'd like a new toy to do X, Y, Z and by the way it could also do it elsewhere too" - thats when HMT start getting concerned. We're very good at abusing a useful system!
 
#19
Again excuse my ignorance re: UOR procurements however could you clarify a few other points.

1) Is there the capability/training to maintain/service/supply these within the forces e.g. the challenges faced with armour and the engines in sandy climates?

2) If not, do we then have to seek civilian contracting and indeed is this preferable?

3) Who provides the oversight and checks the fitness of purpose for UOR? Is it the DPA/Treasury/Operational Command?
 
#20
who_blue said:
1) Is there the capability/training to maintain/service/supply these within the forces
The main reason that it's easier and cheaper to get UOR in service is because they don't come with a long term training or support package. It's a cost/ benefit balance really. It depends what they are, but the ones I've dealt with have a lifed stores outfit and either ''train the trainer'' or ''train the first user and hope they pass it on'' approach...

They're not usually intended to go on for long.


2) If not, do we then have to seek civilian contracting and indeed is this preferable?
Depends. In the long run it works out more expensive to bring in a UOR then try to make it an enduring capability, but you get it in service doing the job. CLS is one way to try to mitigate for that, but you lose some benefits by doing that.

3) Who provides the oversight and checks the fitness of purpose for UOR? Is it the DPA/Treasury/Operational Command?
Again it depends, usually they're delivered by DPA and the Op Command.
 

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