In the near future, the Royal Marines Commandos and the United Kingdom Special Forces (UKSF) will be getting a new amphibious platform from which to operate, significantly increasing their reach and operational capabilities.
The Future Littoral Strike Ship (FLSS), which is being designed specifically for the new Littoral Strike Groups, will be the main workhorse of the concept. As the connotation Strike Group suggests, there will be additional vessels in supporting roles. These would most probably be a replenishment ship, a Type 45 destroyer or Type 23 frigate, and perhaps an attack submarine. The addition of a submarine in the Strike Group will determine the importance that British policymakers will give to the concept, given the fact the Royal Navy has ten submarines. Four are Vanguard class, which serve as a strategic nuclear deterrence, with three each from the Astute and Trafalgar classes, which are nuclear-powered attack subs.
During a presentation of the new concept at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “They would support our Future Commando Force, our world-renowned Royal Marines. They’ll be forward deployed, at exceptionally high readiness, and able to respond at a moment’s notice, bringing the fight from sea to land.”
Williamson, however, didn’t give much detail about the capabilities, costs, or time frame for the FLSS. The Ministry of Defense (MoD) did release some pictures of the vessel in the early stages of conceptualization. They indicate the FLSS will have the capability to launch Royal Marines Commando or UKSF units both by air and water. Most probably, these strike groups will be forward deployed to promptly address emergencies around the world.
Furthermore, the image is quite similar to the U.S. Navy’s Special Warfare Support Vessels (SWSV). The SWSVs are operated either by Sealift Command or by the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC). They provide support to Navy SEALs, Special Warfare Combatant Crewmen (SWCC) or to submarines. They can launch and recover special operations crafts, helicopters, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV).
Williamson gave specifics with regard to the deployment, function, and operation of the new concept. “Our vision is for these ships to form part of two Littoral Strike Groups complete with escorts, support vessels, and helicopters,” he said. “One would be based East of Suez in the Indo-Pacific and one based West of Suez in the Mediterranean, Atlantic and Baltic. And, if we ever need them to, our two Littoral Strike Ships, our two aircraft carriers, our two amphibious assault ships Albion and Bulwark, and our three Bay class landing ships can come together in one amphibious task force. This will give us sovereign, lethal, amphibious force. This will be one of the largest and best such forces anywhere in the world.”
The addition of the Littoral Strike Groups and of the two new aircraft carriers indicates a new outward, global British strategy. With uncertainty over BREXIT ever-present, however, it isn’t certain the British treasury could viably support this new approach.