Future Surface Combatant (FSC)
The Future Surface Combatant (FSC), formerly the Future Escort, program will define the next generation of warship capability for the Royal Navy. BAE Systems Naval Ships has been working to establish potential solutions that will meet the operational requirements. The FSC program will ultimately comprise a series of variants to replace the RN's Type 22 and Type 23 frigates as well as the existing MCM vessels and survey ships.
The Strategic Defence Review emphasised that Forces within the United Kingdom must be flexible and be able to deal with global problems rapidly. The Forces must be manned, equipped, trained and supported by modern warfare. Operations are likely to be multinational and involve the deployment of forces over considerable distances. The Royal Navy has a requirement for a ship to carry out multipurpose missions in both open ocean and coastal water areas. When operating close to shore the ship must have an enhanced survivability capability as well as operating in areas of high submarine threat.
Continued instability throughout the world has underscored the need for the Royal Navy to maintain a strong Naval Presence on a global basis. The ability to conduct not only traditional blue water operations but also extended littoral operations under threat of potential enemies with cheap, but sophisticated weapons is essential. With the changing face of world politics the role of the Royal Navy has changed and its warships are required to take on a more flexible role with tasking anywhere in the world and in virtually any role.
The operating environments of the ship can be classified into two areas, open ocean and coastal waters. The open ocean threats are well known to the Royal Navy and are based on the Cold War doctrine that utilises a strike carrier group as its centrepiece. The Future Surface Combatant must be able to integrate within a Battle Group and provide Anti Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti Surface Warfare (ASuW) and Anti Air Warfare (AAW) protection. The relatively new concept of operating in coastal waters poses new problems. There are a number of new threats from land attack. These are inshore mines, fighter aircraft, attack helicopters, coastal batteries and small patrol boats. The ships sensors will need to cope with additional clutter and its systems must be able to respond to rapid information gathering and target the enemy swiftly.
The FSC must be capable of countering the threat in both open ocean and within the littoral environment. The open ocean threat is well defined and the primary ASW screening will be conducted with ship-mounted sonar (passive and active) supported by helicopter dipping sonar. The threat within the littoral environment can change rapidly and come from a number of different areas. These include land-based aircraft, missiles and munitions; small fast attack craft with low calibre weapons and small missiles; and subsurface threats from submarines and mines. To operate effectively in such an environment besides the strike and multi layer self-defense capabilities, the vessel will be fitted with and an advanced communications suite that allows constant contact and transfer of information between units in the task force.
Following the break up of the Warsaw Pact, NATO has had to redefine the threat it faces and this was echoed in the Strategic Defence Review (SDR) which highlighted the need for a flexible rapid reaction force. It has also become increasingly clear that the requirement for a naval force capable of operating effectively in the littorals has become a driving factor for most future operations.
Despite being the direct replacement for the Type 23 frigate, ASW operations will only be a supporting role for the FSC, its primary role being the support of amphibious operations and operation in littoral waters. To achieve these roles the FSC will be designed as a highly flexible 'swing role' ship, able to operate both alone and as part of an amphibious task force protecting the capital ships. The Type 45 will provide the area air defense capability for these task groups, but it will lack a comprehensive ASW fit. The FSC will therefore be required to perform a screening role for submarines before proceeding into the littorals, ahead of the task group to complete the land strike role and neutralise defensive positions. To enable autonomous operation outside the umbrella of protection from other units, FSW will have to have a multi-role capability and an effective AAW point defence.
The FSC was the Royal Navy's plan to look at designing a future warship that will eventually replace the Type 22 and Type 23 Frigates when they come to the end of their operational working lives. The FSC, which is still in its conceptual design stage, will be versatile, affordable and will be a maritime platform that can be deployed through life across the spectrum of defence missions, ranging from peace support to high intensity warfare.
However, by 2008 the MoD's assumption was that FSC requirement will be met by a two-class solution. The principal element, known as the Versatile Surface Combatant, is expected to enter service around 2023, and a Medium Sized Vessel Derivative is expected to enter service between 2016 and 2019.
The ships were originally scheduled to replace the Type 23 frigates, but due to massive budget cuts and the dramatic reduction of the Navy's fleet, by 2009 the program was set to perform a number of functions. The ships will also replace the Type 22s. The three main categories for the FSC are:
- C1 - Force Anti-Submarine Warfare Combatant (formerly Versatile Surface Combatant)- around ten large vessels, of about 6,000 tons displacement, for high-threat environments (probably 6 or 8 thousand tons and about as expensive as a Type 45). It would operate as an integral part of the maritime strike group or amphibious task group," said Cdre Brunton, "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 - Stabilisation Combatant (formerly Medium Sized Vessel Derivative) - around eight cheaper vessels - generic frigates of about 4 or 5 thousand tons would meet the policy requirement for operations in support of small-scale stabilisation operations, sea line protection and chokepoint escort. C1 and C2 would replace the Type 22 and 23 classes and may use the same generic 6,000 ton hull. The most pressing need is the replacement of the four Batch 3 Type 22s from 2015. This C2 requirement (formerly the MSVD) could be met by an "off the shelf" purchase of the Franco-Italian FREMM multi-role frigate, or a version of the Type 45 destroyer optimised for ASW and surface warfare.
- C3 - Ocean-Capable Patrol Vessel [formerly the Global Corvette] - around eight smaller ships [approximately 2,000-3,000 tons displacement with a range of 7,000 nautical miles] to replace minesweepers and possibly current patrol ships - they will replace a far greater number of existing vessels across various classes. Eight ships would be primarily roled for MCM as replacements for the current Hunt-class and Sandown-class vessels. Potential longer-term replacements are needed for the three River-class offshore patrol vessels, the Falkland Islands patrol vessel HMS Clyde, and the survey ships HMS Echo and HMS Enterprise.
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