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New UK Warship Design Speaks to Indo-Pacific Ambitions

The UK has just unveiled its next-generation sea destroyer concept, an ambitious design that speaks to the nation’s renewed Indo-Pacific naval ambitions but may ultimately founder on financial and military constraints.

This month, the UK Defense Journal reported that the Royal Navy’s Type 83 destroyer’s concept art was revealed at a naval conference, offering clues to its capabilities. The type is slated to enter service in the 2030s.

The concept art shows a hull shape that prioritizes stealth and speed, with a streamlined superstructure and integrated mast suggesting advanced radar and sensors integration, featuring the CEAFAR active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar.

The Type 83 will be comparable in size to China’s Type 055 cruiser, armed with a five-inch gun, Phalanx close-in weapons systems (CIWS), two 30 or 40-millimeter guns, additional unidentified CIWS and a significant missile payload.

The destroyer’s missile payload will be divided into two sets of Mk 41 vertical launch cells (VLS) at the front and midships, with each section holding an estimated 64 VLS for a carrying capacity of 128 missile cells per ship.

In a separate article, UK Defense Journal reported last month on the destroyer’s futuristic capabilities and envisioned roles. The Type 83 will form part of a distributed sensor network called the Future Air Dominance System, which is anticipated to use directed energy weapons such as lasers and complex radar-sensing capabilities for fleet air defense.

The Type 83 will most likely succeed the Type 45, which reportedly suffers from many issues.

In a July 2021 article, Military Watch reported that the Type 45 destroyers had been maligned for having low availability rates, high maintenance needs, and risk of breakdowns when operating in warmer waters.

The report also said the class is considered as lacking versatility and firepower, with just 48 VLS versus the 96 carried by the US Arleigh Burke and Japan’s Maya-class destroyers and over 100 VLS carried by South Korea’s Sejong the Great destroyers and China’s Type 055 cruisers.

Military Watch reported in a separate April 2021 article that the Type 45 is not apt for basic ballistic missile defense, as the class was initially envisioned as an air defense destroyer.

That report notes that on top of their relatively small missile armament, the Type 45’s VLS can only carry Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles, which are designed strictly for anti-air roles.

That lack of anti-ballistic missile defense capability, the source notes, could be a liability for the ships’ planned deployments to East Asia, where China and North Korea field the DF-26 and Hwasong-12 anti-ship ballistic missiles.

The Type 83’s development may also be spurred on by the UK’s new Indo-Pacific and wider global naval ambitions.

In an August 2021 War on the Rocks article, Alessio Pantano notes that the Royal Navy’s July 2021 deployment of the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group in the South China Sea marked a decisive step in the UK’s long-term renewal of its military capabilities.

That deployment, Pantano notes, showed the UK’s acknowledgment that great power competition is back, with China as a “pacing challenge” for the US and UK. The deployment signaled a major strategic shift toward a maritime-leaning posture as the UK aims to reassure partners and signal firmly to adversaries in the region.

The UK’s 2022 National Strategy for Maritime Security mentions that the country will work with allies, partners and multilateral institutions to secure a free and open Indo-Pacific. The strategy says the UK has deployed two Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPV) since 2021, a Littoral Response Group from 2023 and a Type 31 Frigate later in the next decade.

That maritime strategy speaks to the global ambitions mentioned in the UK’s March 2021 Integrated Review, which succinctly states the UK’s intention to remain one of the most influential countries in the world, a declaration of commitment to upholding Western liberal democratic values. It reaffirms the UK’s “special relationship” with the US, stressing the critical importance of the US-UK alliance.

However, military overstretch and funding issues may keep the UK’s lofty global ambitions at bay.

In an April 2023 article for Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, Nicolai von Ondarza and Dominik Rehbaum note that the British Armed Forces are struggling with equipment problems after 20 years of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The writers suggest that the UK’s drive to maintain a strategic presence in Europe and the Indo-Pacific could result in military overstretch.

They also note that while the UK is one of Ukraine’s top suppliers of advanced weapons in its ongoing war with Russia, it is still unclear whether and when the UK can deliver all its promised military equipment.

While UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has called for a long-term increase in the UK’s defense spending to 3% of gross domestic product (GDP), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s financial policies set a goal of 2.5% “as fiscal and economic circumstances allow.” Funding shortfalls may thus hobble the UK’s Indo-Pacific ambitions, including its construction and deployment of Type 83 destroyers.

Von Ondarza and Rehbaum note that of the additional 5 billion pounds (US$6.4 billion) allocated for defense spending over the next two years, 3 billion pounds will go to nuclear deterrence, including Australia’s nuclear submarines under the AUKUS framework, and 2 billion pounds to replenish military equipment stockpiles in Ukraine.

The writers also mention that, as of March 2023, the UK has sent 4.3 billion pounds worth of military equipment to Ukraine, expenses that are cutting into the British Armed Forces’ budget and short-changing its Indo-Pacific ambitions with a smaller, less capable and financially-constrained force.

Source : Asia Times