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Sustained Surface Combatant Capability (S2C2) Pathfinder

The S2C2 Pathfinder Project closed down in April 2007.  This page, essentially dating to February 2007 is retained for reference purposes.  The Frigates Integrated Project Team, part of the Defence Equipment & Support organisation, now has responsibility for work in regards to a Future Surface Combatant.


(Above) A graphic used to illustrate S2C2 thinking.  Presumably a high-end concept, the graphic is believed to date to 2002 or earlier - well before the S2C2 pathfinder was established.


(Above) These graphics of a new Ocean Patrol Vessel for the Omani Navy may give some impression of the type of low-end "Constabulary Oceanic OPV" being considered by S2C2 for delivery to the Royal Navy mid/late next decade.  Length is 96m, speed 25 knots, range 3,200 nm and crew size is 92. The weapon fit include a 12-cell VL MICA launcher (forward of the bridge), MM40 Exocet Block 3 surface-to-surface missiles, a single Oto Melara 76/62 Super Rapid gun and two MSI-DS 30 mm light guns.  The flight deck can take a Sea Lynx. Average unit cost is £133 million. Note that the low graphic is older than the upper.  (Source: VT Group).


(Above) A concept from VT Shipbuilding for a substantial trimaran frigate for FSC and S2C2.  The US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship project has helped to somewhat restore interest in a hull form that had faded in the UK since Vosper's built the trials vessel RV Triton back in 2000.  Source: VT Group.




When  the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) - as then envisaged - was de-facto cancelled in October(?) 2004 at the Initial Gate milestone, the associated Integrated Project Team was quickly stood down (November?) and for a while the DPA's Future Business Group managed residual former FSC IPT activities. 

Directorate Equipment Capability Above Water Effects  (DEC(AWE)) now began to try to develop a new surface combatant strategy.  It was soon clear that the rapid FSC IPT shutdown had left behind incomplete "outputs" which were inadequate for the DEC's needs, and failed to reflect changing circumstances.  In 2005 the MOD identified the need for a "Sustained [Maritime] Surface Combatant Capability" (S2C2) programme to identify better ways for Defence to procure and support Joint Maritime Surface Combatant Capability for the Royal Navy in the future.

"Surface Combatants shall contribute to Standing Commitments and Contingent Overseas Operations exploiting Flexible Global Reach, Networked C4ISR, and interoperability to support Maritime Force Projection, protect UK Maritime Security and contribute to wider British influence and interests within identified constraints."

A new Integrated Project Team was established at the DPA in early 2006, responsible for the long-term sustainment of the capabilities currently delivered by Royal Navy warships, and for identifying a solution to the Key User Requirements previously identified by the Future Surface Combatant programme.   Commodore Steve Brunton was appointed Surface Ship Combatant Capability Pathfinder Team Leader with effect from 3rd April 2006.

S2C2 objectives include:

  • Creating a better understanding of the military capability the UK needs to sustain; how to manage it; how to improve it; and how best this can be achieved
  • To delivery a road-map on how Joint Maritime Surface Combatant Capability should be procured and implemented by April 2007
  • To ensure that these suggestions are workable and have the full support of MOD and industry.

The team has been specifically tasked with delivering a Surface Combatant Capability Plan by March 2007 that will enable the future delivery of capability that:

  • Is lined strategically to Defence Strategic Guidance, Maritime Doctrine and Naval Strategic Plans
  • Is coherent across the Defence Lines of Development
  • Has industry agreement and support
  • Applies both MoD and industry research and technology coherently Is achievable, affordable and capable of responding to emerging events and changes .

The S2C2 study outputs will also inform the MoD's Directorate Equipment Capability (Above Water Effects) next planning round in 2008 (PR08)

.The 23 strong S2C2 core team is based in Abbey Wood and brings together members from Thales (Naval), Devonport Management LTD (DML), VT Shipbuilding, Qinetiq, BAE Systems and BMT, with Dstl providing technical experience.  Representatives from MoD’s acquisition, capability, and support community also form part of the team.

Particular issues that the team is addressing include the need to address industry’s need for steady throughput, in particular surplus capacity within the sector; supply chain integration, standards; and the need to retain core skills.

Surface Combatants provide a very broad range of capabilities and effects and by late 2006 the S2C2 had attempted to capture these capabilities in a Capability Definition Document.  This capture informs the future RN Surface Combatant , both in sequencing and packaging capabilities.

There are apparently at least two initial threads to the new programme:

Firstly, for the short-to-medium term, S2C2 is looking at upgrading and extending the life of 12-13 Type 23 frigates under a Capability Upgrade Programme (CUP).   The Type 23's have a designed service life of 18 years, but they may now face a 35 year service life.  Fortunately they have had a much less stressful life than expected - they were intended to spend long periods operating towed array in North Atlantic winters, instead they have spent more time alongside in harbour than the RN would perhaps like.  Capability upgrades are already planned to the T23 combat system, with updates to address structural strength and platform systems to follow. 

Secondly, a resurrected Future Surface Combatant (FSC) study is continuing investigations (first started in the late 1990s as the ‘Future Escort’) in to how the capabilities currently provided by the existing Type 22 and Type 23 frigates might be met in the long term – a very considerable body of related work already existing.  The S2C2 immediately revisited the assumptions and planning prior that had been made before its establishment and effectively discarded the two class MVD/VSC plan.  


Evolution of FSC

In an interview in early 2006, First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathan Band outlined his own thinking for FSC:  "These ships would be forward deployed, demonstrating presence, undertaking security work ... with a platform offering versatility and endurance, balanced off by the ability to conduct combat operations and join the task group.  What I have in mind is a platform, which is simple and cheap to run, offering good range and endurance, good surveillance capability, modern accommodations and a reasonable size for aviation.  And we have to produce something which is measurably cheaper than we have in the past.  Affordability is the biggest challenge to the navy's equipment plan."

In late 2006 the S2C2 pathfinder suggested that the RN surface based combatant future might be the T45 Air Defence Destroyer (basically for high end AAW) plus variants of new ships with common hulls and systems in the following three categories:

1. High end Force - ASW/Land Effect. Discrete modular capabilities (MCM, helo, UAV, etc)

2. Medium weight – optimised for small scale ops and securing lines of communication

3. Low end - Constabulary Oceanic OPVs, Specialist MCMs, etc

The last two options are a very significant development.  Traditionally the Royal Navy has preferred to spend its available budget on maximising the number of relatively expensive and sophisticated, high quality  "hot war" capable surface combatants in the fleet.  Since the Type 81 Tribal-class frigates were completed in the early 1960's it has avoided spending any money on cheaper vessels intended for low risk operational areas - in particular  what have been variously termed as colonial, light, second class or patrol frigates.  The French Marine Nationale by contrast has consistently built substantial numbers simple and economical warships such as the La Fayette-class frigates and La Floreal-class corvettes - and these form a significant proportion of the available escort force, the downside being that the French Navy has had far fewer "first class" escorts than the Royal Navy until recently.

The potential shift in procurement policy  was confirmed when at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) 'Future Maritime Operations' conference in London on 22 November 2006, Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Jonathon Band again imposed his thinking on the programme.  He  said that while the RN had previously insisted on configuring its forces for high-intensity warfighting, the "financial and security" realities had persuaded him that there was a case for a larger number of less capable units for tasking in support of maritime interdiction and constabulary operations.  Admiral Band's comment came in the context of a fall in the size of the RN's frigate/destroyer force from 35 ships in 1997 to 25in 2006, with more cuts rumoured.   Admiral Sir Alan West, Adm Band's predecessor as Chief of Naval Staff and First Sea Lord, was public in his opinion that this level is too small to meet the full spectrum of taskings, noting that the figure of 25 was based on analysis of high-intensity warfighting tasks alone and did not address wider maritime security needs, or make any allowance for attrition.

On 30 January 2007, S2C2 team leader Commodore Steve Brunton presented an overview of early S2C2 outcomes to a Defence Manufacturers Association conference.  According to Janes he told delegates that "S2C2 largely focuses on the relationship between the current Type 22 and Type 23 frigates and FSC but it has also developed linkages to other capabilities. Mine countermeasures [MCM], patrol vessels and surveys vessels all offer us opportunities".

Current S2C2 thinking had developed in to plans for the replacement of the RN's current Type 22 Batch 3 and Type 23 frigates, plus a range of minor war vessels, with three new classes of surface combatants. Cdr Brunton identified these as:

  • a Force Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Combatant (known as C1)
  • a Stabilisation Combatant (C2)
  • an Ocean-Capable Patrol Vessel (C3).

He said "The plan we have developed takes eight existing classes down to just three. The capability currently delivered by the Type 22s and Type 23s would be replaced by C1 and C2, while C3 would replace the capabilities of our existing mine warfare fleet but also offer additional capability for maritime security tasks."

C1 is envisaged as a multimission combatant, of about 6,000 tons displacement according to Janes.  It is  optimised for war fighting and would operate as an integral part of the maritime strike group or amphibious task group, offering high-end ASW, land attack and coastal suppression.  It would also have an organic MCM capability and facilities for an embarked military force.

C2 would meet the policy requirement for operations in support of small-scale stabilisation operations, sea line protection and chokepoint escort.

One continuing debate is whether C1 and C2 should be based on the same generic hull but with differences across their respective equipment fits to reflect the capability split between the two.

C3 is currently envisaged as a vessel of approximately 2,000 tonnes displacement with a range of 7,000 nm for constabulary and minor war vessel tasks.  Cdr Brunton said  "We see this vessel being used for maritime security and interdiction operations. It would also have a large mission bay aft, reconfigurable for special forces, MCM or a Lynx helicopter.

Analysis on the force mix continues. Early planning estimates suggest a requirement for 10 C1-type vessels and eight C2 ships. The initial requirement for C3 is thought to number eight ships, these being primarily roled for MCM as replacements for the current Hunt-class and Sandown-class vessels. However, this number could rise significantly if potential long-term replacements for the three River-class offshore patrol vessels, the Falkland Islands patrol vessel HMS Clyde, and the survey ships HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise later enter in to the equation.

Cdre Brunton acknowledged that the roadmap developed under S2C2 "is not yet endorsed MoD policy", but added: "We are hoping for endorsement [in PR08] to make this option set a reality."

S2C2 will report at the end of March 2007.


S2C2 Links

Defence Procurement Agency & BAE Systems - Type 45

Naval TechnologyHorizon CNGF (Type 45 Destroyer)



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 © 2004-13 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.