Monday, 4 June 2018

JGSDF's Rikkunland - Museum Par Excellence?


Ground level view of the JGSDF Public Information Center.
Aerial View of the JGSDF Public Information Center.
Armoured vehicles and a UH-1 helicopter can be seen
on display at the courtyard behind the main building. Image Google Earth


There is a little known military attraction near Tokyo with an official name so long that nobody with the right mind would want to vocalize - the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Public Information Center ( 陸上自衛隊広報センター Rikujojieitai Koho Senta ). The Japanese have wisely nicknamed it Rikkunland ( りっくんランド Rikkunrando ), after the center's Humpty-Dumpty lookalike mascot Rikkun.

It is essentially an army museum to showcase the history and equipment of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force or JGSDF. Its main purpose is to attract eligible persons to join the organization as career soldiers. I am well past conscription age but I paid a visit to the center anyway, when I was in Tokyo in September last year. A surprising discovery awaited at the center, one which probably even IHS Jane's does not know about ...

All photographs taken by the author unless otherwise stated.

Mascots of the JGSDF Public Information Center Rikkun
and his female counterpart Asaka Chan.


JGSDF : An Army That Is Not An Army

The JGSDF is a rather strange entity. Japan's defeat in World War Two was followed immediately by seven years of Allied occupation lead mainly by the United States of America. The occupation forces had among other missions, the urgent task of supervising the demilitarization of Japan. The Imperial Army and the Imperial Navy were thus dismantled, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration which defined the terms of the surrender. But Japan was not only stripped of its military, it also at around that time voluntarily adopted its post-war peace Constitution in which it had forever renounced the right to wage war. The maintenance of land, sea and air forces or any other capabilities with war potential was also specifically prohibited. So how then did the JGSDF come into being?

While Japan had initially relied on the US occupation forces to protect itself from external threats, within a few years rising Cold War tensions and increasing domestic strife had made the Japanese have second thoughts about relinquishing all military capabilities. In particular, the outbreak of the Korean War saw the US withdraw most of its armed forces from Japan to redeploy to Korea, leaving Japan almost defenseless. It also made the Japanese realize that moving forward, they need some sort of mutual defense arrangement with the US to guarantee their external security. It was under those trying circumstances that in July 1950 the Japanese government authorized the establishment of the National Police Reserve, with the blessings of the Americans. Comprising of 75000 men armed with light infantry weapons, they would be involved in matters relating to internal security and in disaster relief.

By the time the Allied occupation ended in April 1952, the Japanese had not only regained the sovereignty over their main islands, they had also established a mutual defense pack with the US. The National Police Reserve was expanded to 110000 men and renamed the National Safety Forces, the direct predecessor of the JGSDF. Because barely two years later, there would be yet another major reorganization that would result in the creation of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, complete with the three major services of ground, sea and air.

And thus the JGSDF was born and became the de facto post-war Japanese Army, though Japan was not permitted by its Constitution to maintain an army in the first place. In its current state, the JGSDF, a self-defense entity, has more offensive capabilities than many of the world's conventional armies.

JGSDF Emblem

Recruitment - Rikkunland's Raison D'être 

You can have the most advanced main battle tank, the most powerful field artillery or the best attack helicopter, but without the manpower to operate them, these complex war machines would be completely useless. Military recruitment has always been a hard sell especially during times of relative peace and prosperity. In modern day Japan, the recruiting officer's task is made many times harder still.

Although the initial post-war public apathy towards the armed services has slowly given way to a better appreciation of the role of the SDF particularly in disaster relief in recent years, a career in the private sector is still likely to offer a higher salary and is perceived to be more prestigious.

Also, the JSDF is an all-volunteer force as conscription is not provided for under the Constitution. SDF personnel join the organization out of their own free will as career soldiers and are considered as special civil servants. They are legally civilians and are paid according to civilian pay scales. Consequently, they can resign at anytime and retention of talent is a huge issue.

Perhaps most importantly, Japan has one of the world's lowest fertility rates at just 1.46 per women ( 2015 figures ) and has the most rapidly ageing population on the planet. After peaking at 128 million in the year 2010, its population is now contracting at approximately 1 million a year. Fewer newborns means a forever shrinking pool of potential volunteer candidates for the SDF in the years to come.

This is likely why the JGSDF commissioned the Public Information Centre way back in the year 2002 in a bid to increase its visibility as an organization and to attract more young Japanese to signed up for a military career. It is physically located adjacent to Camp Asaka in Wako City, Saitama Prefecture. Wako Station is just 20 minutes by rail from Ikebukuro, Tokyo but from there it is another 20 minutes of walking to the Camp. Comprising of a large rectangular building with a lot of glass structure, the center has attracted 1.5 million visitors in the 15 years since its inception. So what is it like inside?

Image from the recruitment page of JSDF website

Entering Rikkunland

Entry to the JGSDF Public Information Center ( henceforth known as the museum ) is free. As the visitors enter the main entrance, the duty officer in a small reception booth greets and welcomes them. The center's very small and congested gift shop is located just next to the reception. In it you will find the usual souvenirs with military themes like insignia patches, caps and plastic scale models of some of JGSDF's equipment. Continue forward and you will reach the exit of the main exhibition hall but the duty officer would have directed the visitor to take the lift to the second floor and begin their tour of the museum from there. It was right next to the lift lobby that I made a most unusual discovery, even before my tour of the museum proper had began.

Beneath the illuminated logo of the center next to the exit of the exhibition hall
are a collection of miniature models of JGSDF's equipment.

Secret Weapon of the JGSDF

Sitting in a display case next to the exit of the main exhibition hall are a series of scale models of many of JGSDF's current and legacy equipment, neatly arranged and all beautifully rendered in their battlefield camouflage. Among them I spotted the M4 Sherman, the Type 10 MBT, the Patriot missile, the AH-64 Apache, the Type 74 Self-Propelled Howitzer and to my utter astonishment, there was Gojira, hiding at the rear corner.

Scale models of JGSDF equipment, old and new.
The sharp-eyed would notice an anomaly at the rear ranks. 

For those of you who are not in the know, Gojira ( ゴジラ ) is the original Japanese name for a certain prehistoric sea monster that was awakened from its slumber deep within Tokyo Bay after exposure to radiation from nuclear blasts. This amphibian reptilian is 50 meters tall and is enormously strong, with a hide so thick that it is immune to attacks from all kinds of conventional munitions. Its most powerful weapon is its radioactive breath, generated by nuclear reactions within its belly. It had killed thousands and left a trail of destruction as it stomped through greater Tokyo, time and again, at least in Toho Pictures' films anyway. Hollywood would later adulterate that name to become .... Godzilla, which is most likely the version that you are familiar with.

Lizard and panzers.

Gojira hiding behind a Type 74 105mm Self Propelled Howitzer.
Note : Not to scale.

Gojira? Seriously? If the JGSDF has successfully recruited this super duper reptilian into its ranks, it would have been invincible to say the least. The Chinese wouldn't dare send anymore ships to the waters around Senkaku Island nor aircrafts to intrude into Japanese airspace. All these tiny machines would simply be crushed beyond recognition. And Mr Pootin too had better return the disputed Kuril Islands as soon as possible, before his ass is fried by lizard breath.

Now Gojira would not have been included in the display had it not been officially part of JGSDF's ORBAT, or would it?

The Second Floor : History of the JGSDF

After the excitement of discovering Gojira comes the boring part of the museum tour. Next to the lift landing on the second floor is a small area displaying the mission, the organization table and the rank structure of the JGSDF. This area overlooks the grand exhibition hall but does not command a good view. It would lead to a relatively small room with photographs, paintings and displays outlining the history of the JGSDF.

As mentioned earlier, the JGSDF is mainly concerned with the defense of the Japanese Archipelago and in humanitarian and disaster relief operations. Recent years have also seen JGSDF personnel deployed in United Nations peacekeeping operations outside of Japan though in non-combat roles such was logistics and medical.

Highlighted here were also JGSDF personnel who had won medals for representing Japan in the various Olympic Games over the past few decades.

A full-length wall mural display listed the key events that shaped the organization through the years and also showed the fluctuations in personnel and major equipment numbers since the inception of the JGSDF in 1954. Be warned that it is all in Japanese with very little English translation, since the museum's target population are the locals rather than foreigners.

Events and numbers. Only the title is in English. Everything else in Japanese.

Probably the most interesting part of this sub-section is a series of seven or eight paintings commissioned by the JGSDF to commemorate its 50th anniversary. I love military art, especially those that depict historical events. Below is a painting showing the rescue operation after the 1995 Kobe earthquake entitled " Disaster Relief Dispatch for the Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (1995)". I wish there could have been more of these being displayed.

Paintings commissioned for commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the JGSDF

Apart from this there is a small library cum reading room next door when racks of military related magazines and books are available for reference. Needless to say, they are all in Japanese. This room probably doubles as an activity room of sorts, as there are coloring materials for kids. With that, I was done with the second floor. The main attractions are all at the main exhibition hall one floor below as well as the outdoor display just behind the museum.

Main Exhibition Hall : Hardware of the JGSDF

As the visitor descended on the stairs connecting the two floors, the cavernous main exhibition hall would come into view. Two huge parachutes hung vertically down from the very high ceiling, one was for delivering cargo, the other for paratroopers. Beneath the canopies are all the indoor static displays and occupying the central and most prominent position is the star attraction of the museum - the Fuji AH-1S Cobra attack helicopter.

The main exhibition hall at level 1

Fuji AH-1S Cobra

First entering service with the JGSDF in 1984, AH-1S helicopter gunship was JGSDF's main attack helicopter until it was replaced by the AH-64D Apache. A total of 90 AH-1S were licence built by Fuji Heavy Industries with the last rolled out in the year 2000. They were roughly equivalent to the modernized AH-1F Cobras. They are armed with TOW anti-tank guided missiles, 70mm rockets and a 20mm Gatling Gun, all of which can be viewed at close range at the museum. As of Mar 2015 there were still some 60 AH-1S in active service with the GSDF.

The AH-1S is officially known as an Anti-Tank Helicopter ( 対戦車ヘリコプター taisensha herikoputa ) within the JGSDF whereas the more advanced AH-64D is known as a Battle Helicopter ( 戦闘ヘリコプター sento herikoputa )  indicating perhaps a broader attack role which is not just limited to tanks.

The museum periodically holds " open cockpit day " special event and allows visitors to take the pilot's seat, a sure way to attract the next generation of army aviators.

AH-1S Cobra on display at the museum

70mm rocket launchers and TOW missile launchers of the AH-1S

Cockpit of the AH-1S ( front )

70mm rocket, 20mm autocannon ammunition, an a scale model
of the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter.

Type 90 Main Battle Tank

Other Than the AH-1S Cobra, the other major indoor attraction on display is without doubt the Type 90 Main Battle Tank. Adjacent to and with its 120mm main gun pointing at the AH-1S, the Type 90 tries to steal the thunder from the helicopter. Though still in active deployment, the Type 90 has been superseded by the newer and more advanced Type 10 main battle tank which was displayed at the outdoor area. On special occasions, the commander's seat will be open to the public for a taste of what it is like to be inside a tank. For this reason, the museum had installed fixed railings on the turret to prevent visitors from falling off.

Next to the tank were displays of its ammunition - HEAT and APFSDS rounds for the Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore gun.

The Type 90 Main Battle Tank on display at the museum.

The Type 90 MBT with stairs linking to level 2 in the background.

Type 90 MBT Ammunition : 120mm HEAT ( top ) and APFSDS ( bottom )

Gunner's Periscope

Next to the Type-90 MBT is a little arcade-like box structure that simulates the tank gunner's primary targeting sight and allows the visitor to have a feel of how it is like to aim the 120mm gun.

Gunner's primary sight periscope

Gunner's primary sight periscope

Infantry Weapons and Equipment

Of course the display would not be complete without a show of infantry weapons and equipment. After all, the lowly and unappreciated foot soldier is the mainstay of any ground force. So there is the usual army uniforms, boots, helmets and even gas masks being displayed using mannequins.

The standard infantry rifle, the squad automatic weapon and the tank mounted general purpose machine gun were showcased. Even the Type 91 portable surface to air missile is displayed.

Top to bottom : Howa Type 89 assault rifle 5.56mm,
 Sumitomo MINIMI Light machine gun 5.56mm,
 Sumitomo Type 74 turret mounted co-axial machine gun 7.62mm.
Toshiba Type 91 man-portable surface-to-air missile
aka Hand Arrow

Another section had a backpack, a flak jacket and a parachute pack weighing exactly like what they would when worn or carried by the soldiers. The visitor can experience the actual weight of these loads by putting them on their backs.

Lead weighted packs and vest to simulate an infantryman's load.

Aviator's Helmet, Type 88 Steel helmet, aviator's boots,
combat backpack, Type 2 bullet-proof vest.

Type 00 chemical warfare protective equipment.

Motorcycle for reconnaissance

Army Rations

As Napoleon Bonaparte had famously said, an army marches on its stomach. It is therefore not surprising to see JGSDF field rations as part of the exhibit. What is unusual here is simply the variety of ration types available to the Japanese self-defense force personnel. It is almost like a mini Japanese kaiseki cuisine. Curry bonito with rice, Miso mackerel, spicy Mabo vegetable, stir fried pork with ginger, beef stew, meatballs ... the list goes on.

JGSDF combat rations

3D Theatre

A small audio-visual room screens 3D movies on the history and equipment of the JGSDF. Be warned that they are all in Japanese language only, since the center does not expect non-Japanese visitors usually. The audience will also have to don 3D glasses when viewing the movies.

3D theater

Helicopter Simulator

A small flight simulator occupies an area next to the AH-1S. In it two persons can sit side by side to experience the simulated flight of an attack helicopter. Flight control is however not available and the visitor and only feel the pitching and yawing of the cockpit with a lot of background noise of the rotors.

Rent A Uniform

Among the unusual features of the museum is its military uniform rental service which is free of charge. Visitors can go to the rental corner which has racks of army fatigues of various sizes neatly displayed and ask for a suitable uniform to wear within the museum. They can then stroll around the center and pose for photographs next to the military hardware on display. So don a uniform, look smart and pretend to be a soldier today. Hopefully in time to come you'll be part of the SDF.

Outdoor Display

Apart from the indoor exhibits, there are more armoured vehicles and helicopters to be seen at the outdoor static display just behind the main museum building. As the visitor exits the main hall, the first thing that comes to sight is an underground command bunker. You literally have to descend a flight of stairs to view this command center which is rather claustrophobic.

Entrance to the underground command post

Inside the command bunker

It is much better to be out in the open with the sunshine warming your face and two neat rows of air and land vehicles waiting for you to inspect.

Outdoor display R to L : Type 10 MBT, Type 74 MBT,
Type 96 Wheeled APC, Type 89 IFV, Type 87 SPAAG,
Type 94 Beach Minelayer.

Outdoor static display L to R : UH-1, Type 75 155mm SPH,
Type 74 105mm SPH, Medium ranged multi-purpose missile carrier.

The Type 10 MBT - probably the most popular among the outdoor displays.

The Type 10 BMT on display is the original prototype which
the Technical Research And Development Institute
( now Acquisition, Technology And Logistics Agency ) commissioned
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to build in 2008,
as indicated by these plates on the chassis.

Type 74 MBT with 105mm rifled gun.
Still listed on the JGSDF website but completely obsolete.
Meant to be replaced by the Type 90 BMT.

Type 89 Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

Komatsu Type 96 Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier.

Type 87 Self-Propelled Anti-Aircraft Gun
 with twin 35mm Oerlikon autocannons.

Type 94 Beach Mine Layer

Fuji UH-1H

Type 75 155mm Self-Propelled Howitzer

Type 74 105mm Self-Propelled Howitzer

Missile carrier : Medium Ranged Multi-purpose Guided Missile

Fuji Heavy Industries Flying Forward Observation System
 remotely controlled helicopter.

A Museum That Is Not A Museum

Just like its parent organization which is obviously a military body but is known as a self defense force, the JGSDF Public Information Center has all the characteristics and hallmark of a museum but it is not called a museum. The International Council of Museum ( ICOM ) defines a museum as " a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment ". For all intent and purposes, the JGSDF Public Information Center fits all those descriptions, and most rational minds would have classified it as a museum.

How To Make The JGSDF Public Information Center Better

From my very brief visit to Rikkunland on a typical weekday morning, I could tell that it has excellent content that could attract a niche group of visitors, namely local Japanese military enthusiasts. I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and I felt that it was well worth the half day trip from Tokyo. However, I noticed there were few visitors to the center that day. Hopefully the center would draw a larger crowd on weekends. In order to better fulfill its original role of recruiting young Japanese men and women to join the ranks of the JGSDF, the center could have done more.

A Better Name

A much shorter and catchy name might be useful, like Rikugunkan ( 陸軍館 ) which means Army Museum. Anything but Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Public Information Center. It will be easier to remember and also to search for.

A Better Location

The current location of the center adjacent to Camp Asaka makes it convenient for the GSDF personnel to rotate large and heavy military hardware on exhibition but is not easily accessible by the visiting public. Wako City is 20 minutes by rail from Ikebukuro and the camp and center is another 20 minutes away on foot. It would be better if the center is located within metropolitan Tokyo itself, somewhere where lots of young people frequent. That way visitor traffic would be higher. The center currently has an average of about 100000 visitors per year. That's way lower than the figures for the Yamato Museum in Kure which received about 1 million visitors per year.

Contemporary Hardware

Though the center did have on display some modern latest generation hardware like the Type 10 main battle tank, a lot of the exhibits were legacy systems that are either phased out or on the way out. For example, instead of the AH-1S cobra helicopter gunship as the centerpiece, why not have the latest AH-64D displayed? If the JGSDF cannot spare an extra airframe for display, a 1:1 scale replica would do as well.

Also, there are some weapon systems in the GSDF's inventory that are obviously missing, like the M-270 multiple launch rocket system and the M-110 203mm self-propelled howitzer. I was just about to include the Patriot surface to air missile until a quick check revealed that they are JASDF inventory.

Interactive Displays

Japan is a country well known for its technological innovations. In fact the Japanese love to use advanced technology to offer solutions to the many problems that plague their society. The use of robotics to overcome the shortage of labour due to an ageing population is a good example. In the same way, the center should harness technology to make its exhibits more interactive and for the visitor to have a more immersive experience. The 3D theatre is passé. All the major TV manufacturers have abandoned 3D in their latest offerings. We are now into augmented reality and virtual reality. Why not have a VR combat simulator that allows for an out of this world experience of the future battlefield?


Well Designed Mascot

I have to be honest, Rikkun and Asaka Chan, the current male and female mascot of the center are not the cutest nor the most lovable creatures ever designed. They looked like eggs with arms and legs and reminded me of Humpty Dumpty first and foremost. Maybe I am missing something that only the Japanese can understand but having something that look less fragile and less obese perhaps may be a better brand ambassador for the JGSDF. A well designed mascot will project a very different image of the ground forces especially now that Prime Minister Abe is trying to change the Post-War Peace Constitution.

The Killer App

Finally, if the museum were to attract young visitors, having a star attraction that appeals to people of that generation would certainly be useful. Japan being a land of manga ( comics ) and anime ( cartoons ), choosing a strong character from one of the popular series and turning it into a highly visible iconic landmark for the museum might just do the trick.

Which character to choose? I think JGSDF already has the perfect candidate and it is none other than the world's most famous lizard Godzilla. For decades, in almost every Godzilla movie, the reptile has been making a fool of the Japanese Self Defense Forces, chomping up fighter aircrafts and helicopters in the sky and crushing tanks, armoured vehicles and soldiers on the ground. It seems the SDF could never win. The time has come to make the lizard work for the SDF, for once.

If the JGSDF could create a huge Godzilla replica that towers way above the museum building and make it look as if it is attacking the building itself, that could become the museum's main crowd puller and a recognizable local landmark. The rooftop area can also be made accessible to visitors to be standing next to the replica for photograph taking.

And to make it even more interesting, a life-sized diorama can be set up by rearranging the currently neatly parked array of artillery pieces, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles on static display at the court yard behind the museum building to make them look as if they are fighting the monster lizard.

Anything would be better than the current drape office building lookalike appearance of the museum.

A Museum Worth Visiting?

Even in its current form, the JGSDF Public Information Center is an interesting place to visit for military buffs, definitely worth spending half a day if you find yourself in Tokyo with time to kill. With the exception of license-built hardware like the AH-1S or UH-1, almost all the displayed armoured vehicles and tube artillery are unique to the Japanese SDF as none have ever been exported to other countries.

Applying a more modern operating concept might make the museum more attractive and relevant to the younger generation, its main target population. With its future I certainly hope JGSDF will continue to improve on its already excellent museum and take it to the next level.

Friday, 6 January 2017

Blimey! That Be Yer Last Harpoon, Sire.

The Harpoon is a sea-skimming anti-ship missile seen here being fired
from the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer DDG-56
USS John S McCain. Photo : USN

HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy fires its Harpoon missile
 in an undated photo. Source : RN

Running Out Of Missiles

In November 2016, the Royal Navy ( RN ) made it to the news headlines for the wrong reason - its frigates and destroyers will soon be running out of anti-ship missiles ( AShM ), all because of lack of funds complicated by poor planning, and perhaps as a consequence of having feeble-willed Sea Lords at the helm. The fleet is scheduled to have its helicopter-launched Sea Skua AShM going out of service in March 2017 AND have its Harpoon ship-to-ship missile withdrawn from service at the end of 2018 without any planned replacement. The untimely retirement of the Harpoon and the Sea Skua will cause the RN to have a capability gap in over-the-horizon anti-ship warfare between 2018 and 2020. The warships will regain some form of long range strike capability only in late 2020 with the planned introduction of the Anglo-French Sea Venom / ANL lightweight AShM on the Wildcat HMA.2 helicopters.

Now wait a minute. Did anyone mention THE Royal Navy? I would have very much wanted to believe that it was an April Fool's joke of some sort, only it ain't April. Nobody would have been surprised if this debacle had involved a third rate navy of some Banana Republic. But it had to be the RN, of all navies? This piece of news might have been incredible and shocking initially because we had come to know the RN as one of the most powerful navies in modern history. However, look more closely and anyone would have realized that the once mighty RN had been in constant decline for the past century, yes, century, not decade. The writing had already been on the wall for a long time. That the RN would soon be running out of missiles for its workhorse frigates and destroyers could mark the beginning of a terminal demise, a race to the bottom from which it might never ever fully recover.

Read on to discover how the RN got itself into this latest mess which by the way is not its first and unlikely to be its last.

A Brief History Of The Royal Navy

The Royal Navy could trace its lineage of more than a thousand years back to the reign of King Alfred the Great ( AD 871 - 899 ) and earlier, although in those early beginnings it was not an organized force with dedicated fighting ships and men. More likely the flotilla was made up of a ragtag of requisitioned merchant vessels whenever the need arose, such as when the Danes invaded or raided the Anglo-Saxon lands. The ships carried militiamen, farmers and peasants called into military service by law and much of the naval battles were ramming attempts followed by savage hand-to-hand fighting when the soldiers board the enemy ship. King Alfred was credited for reorganizing the military and restructuring the taxation system which would ultimately devote funds for ship building, thereby creating a small standing fleet of longships that plied the rivers, estuaries and the coastal waters of Englaland. From such humble beginnings the RN gradually transformed itself into a professional maritime fighting force, built upon centuries old traditions and technological innovations.

The Battle of Trafalgar depicted by English marine painter Clarkson Frederick Stanfield.
 Admiral Lord Nelson won a most decisive victory against the combined
Franco-Spanish armada, destroying 22 enemy ships without losing a single
 vessel himself. He unfortunately died during the encounter, shot by
a French musketeer. Source : Wikipedia

Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, by Lemuel Francis Abbott.
Nelson would no doubt have flipped in his grave had he learnt
about the current state of affairs of the Royal Navy. Image : Wikipedia

It was the world's most powerful navy for much of the past 200 years, from the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 to the Battle of Jutland in 1916. It was said that for a hundred years after the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy maintained a presence in every ocean in the world and its dominance ensured freedom of navigation and trade. A powerful navy was a necessity during the colonial era as Britain depended heavily on maritime trade for much of its prosperity and even survival. Its supreme dominance helped shape the British Empire and its colonies and only came to an end during World War Two, overtaken by the United States Navy (USN).

Even to this day, the RN is still the second largest navy of the NATO alliance, complete with aircraft carriers ( under construction ), helicopter carriers, amphibious landing ships, nuclear-powered attack submarines, ballistic missile submarines and the works. The price to pay for maintaining its nuclear deterrence force and aircraft carriers was that its destroyer and frigate force had shrunken to a historical low. The RN could only count six modern but problem plagued Type 45 air defense destroyers and thirteen ageing Type 23 ASW frigates at its disposal.

Logo of the Royal Navy. Source : Wikipedia

Why Missiles Matter

Unless you are stuck in a time warp somewhere in the first half of the twentieth century, you would have realized that guided missiles have long since replaced large caliber guns as the primary long range strike weapon of choice for warships. In that bygone era, the main guns of battleships had barrel diameters of 14 inch, 16 inch and ultimately 18.1 inch ( 460mm ). The larger the caliber, the longer the range of the gun. The biggest guns could fire projectiles that weigh more than a ton out to a maximum range of 42km, though the effective range is a little less at 25km.

It was the reach of the big naval guns that determined which opponent would fire the first salvos during a surface encounter. And you would have a better chance of victory if you could achieve that way before you in turn come into the range of your enemy's guns.

However, the caliber of naval guns could not defy the laws of physics and keep increasing forever. Bigger caliber shells generate higher over-pressures when detonated which in turn would require a thicker barrel to withstand that pressure. Gun barrels are made of steel and steel has a high density, meaning it is heavy, in fact very heavy. Heavy barrels would require even heavier gun mounts which needed even bigger ships and bigger shipyards for their construction. And then there would be the cost factor.

Each gun mount of the Japanese battleship Yamato with triple 18.1 inch barrels was said to weigh 2510 tons, about the same weight as an entire destroyer of that era. And the Yamato, a 72000 ton monster of a battleship, sported three such gun mounts.

Clearly, naval architects would have to look elsewhere other than cannons and guns if they wanted to increase the strike range of their warships. That breakthrough arrived in the form of jet propulsion and rocket propulsion technologies that came of age during World War II. Though not exactly new especially with gunpowder having been invented by the Chinese in the 9th century and presumably used as a rocket propellant subsequently, the emerging sensor and guidance technology of WWII saw application in the earliest generation of guided missiles and rockets like Nazi Germany's V-1 cruise missile and V-2 rocket.

By the sixties, fueled by the Cold War, missile technology had rapidly matured permeated every branch of the military including the navies of many nations. With their superior range, accuracy and lethal payload, they quickly rendered the big guns obsolete in anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ). The effectiveness of anti-ship missiles as ship-killers was first demonstrated in 1967 when the Egyptian Navy Komar-class missile gunboats sunk their much bigger opponent the Israeli destroyer INS Eilat with three Soviet made SS-N-2 Styx AShM.

Ever since that first operational success, the role of guided missiles as the premier long range precision anti-ship weapon of choice was further affirmed during the Falklands War in 1982 when a single Argentinian air-launched AM-39 Exocet AShM sunk the Royal Navy Type 42 destroyer the HMS Sheffield.

Today, while warships of many types are still equipped with guns, these weapons have seen their prominence diminished and their caliber much reduced. The largest guns found on modern day man-of-war generally do not exceed 5 inches in caliber ( 127mm ). They still have limited use especially against low value targets that are not worth expending a missile on, for shore bombardment in support of an amphibious landing and some rapid firing types may also have anti-aircraft capabilities. Of course they can also be used to fire ceremonial rounds and the occasional warning shot across the bow against rogue elements if necessary.

The Type 23 Duke-class Frigates

The main class of warship affected by the RN's missile fiasco is the Type 23 frigate, also known as the Duke-class frigate as, you guessed it, the entire class is largely named after British dukes. Frigates form the backbone of the navy as they are the multi-role platform that are involved in anything from submarine hunting to patrolling and escorting duties and even in providing limited area air defense against hostile aircrafts and missiles. In recent years, many were also increasing tasked to conduct peace-keeping and maritime security operations as well.

The Type 23 was conceptualized at the height of the Cold War in the late seventies as a light anti-submarine frigate against the Soviet nuclear submarines operating in the North Atlantic. They were intended to replace the ageing Leander-class and the newer Type 21 frigates to be the new guardians of the famed GIUK Gap, the strategic underwater choke point for any Soviet Northern Fleet submarine trying to breakout into the Atlantic Ocean from their home bases around Severomorsk.

The Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap. Source : Wikipedia

In its original configuration, the Type 23 was to have a towed array sonar and carry an ASW helicopter to attack enemy submarines that it had detected. It would not be mounting any defensive armaments and was supposed to instead rely on the Sea Wolf missile system from its replenishment oiler for protection! In addition, it was intended that the Type 23 frigate would only have refueling and rearming capabilities for its helicopter and had to rely on the same oiler to provide servicing facilities.

It was with great fortune that the Falklands War broke out in 1982 before the plans for the Type 23 were finalized. The RN would have otherwise ended up with an entire class of lame ASW frigates that cannot operate independently even in low threat environments. Lessons learnt from that conflict included among other things the deadliness of aerial attacks even with unguided iron bombs, the astonishing ship-killing capabilities of modern guided anti-ship missiles and the need for an effective point defense system for self-protection. It was back to the drawing boards ( literally, since computer aided design technology was not available then ) and the future frigate grew in size, complexity as well as cost.

The Type 23 frigates were to eventually have new technology incorporated into their design like the radar cross section reducing stealth technology, extensive automation to reduce manpower requirements and enhanced damage control capabilities. Instead of relying on their oiler to provide an air defense umbrella, they would have their very own Sea Wolf surface-to-air missiles, a total of 32 missiles packed in a new vertical launch system ( VLS ) at the forecastle just aft of the main gun. That was in conjunction with additional tracking capabilities against low flying aircraft and sea-skimming AShM. A single 4.5 inch ( 127mm ) medium caliber main gun would be mounted to provide naval gunfire support. Smaller caliber guns like the 30mm autocannons and general purpose machine guns would also be mounted in greater numbers for self defense against small boats and aircraft. A set of Harpoon AShM in two quadruple launchers mounted just aft of the Sea Wolf VLS would provide long range strike capabilities against surface targets. A combined diesel-electric and gas ( CODLAG ) propulsion system would provide for very quite running during ASW operations and yet have the economy of an extended range and the power for a high speed dash whenever the need arose. The frigate would also have a flight deck and an enclosed hangar that was self-contained. The embarked Lynx or Merlin ASW helicopter would be armed with the Sea Skua AShM or torpedoes.

Originally projected to cost GBP75million each in 1980, the evolved Type 23 frigate would cost the British tax-payer GBP135million for the first of class HMS Norfolk and that did not include the cost of the organic ASW helicopter. Subsequent ships would cost slightly less. Eventually, a total of 16 Type 23 frigates were constructed and the RN got itself a very capable general purpose frigate that had at least a good chance of surviving the modern naval battle. ( Note : three Type 23 frigates had been paid-off and were sold to Chile due again to cost-cutting measures implemented by the MOD leaving the RN with the current remaining fleet of thirteen Type 23 frigates )

Type 23 frigate HMS Argyll underway at speed. Source : Royal Navy

HMS Argyll executing a hard-a-starboard. Notice the V-shaped quad Harpoon
launchers just behind the rather squarish looking VLS
 at the forecastle. Source : Royal Navy

In May 2015 the RN made the decision to replace the GWS 26 Mod 1 Sea Wolf surface-to-air missile of the Type 23 frigates with the naval variant of the Common Anti-Air Modular Missile ( CAMM ), also known as the Sea Ceptor. The Sea Ceptor has a range of more than 25km which is almost thrice that of the Sea Wolf. It could be packed four to the space occupied by one Sea Wolf missile in the VLS. The missile system utilizes much of the existing infrastructure of the Sea Wolf system but a much more powerful Type 997 Artisan 3D radar is required. HMS Argyll was the first frigate to be upgraded in late 2015.

Ultimately, these tired workhorses of the RN which have been in service for almost three decades now will be replaced by eight Type 26 ASW frigates a.k.a. Global Combat Ship some time after 2021 and perhaps by the lighter and cheaper Type 31 General Purpose Frigate in the far future.

You can watch videos of the Sea Ceptor by MBDA and the Type 26 Global Combat Ship by BAE Systems below :

The Type 45 Daring-class Destroyer

This is the other class of warship which are equipped with the Harpoon missile in the RN. There are six of these Anti-Air Warfare ( AAW ) destroyers serving in the RN whose primary role is to provide area defense for the fleet against hostile aircrafts and AShM. They were meant to replace the fourteen ( twelve, if not including HMS Sheffield and HMS Coventry which were sunk during the Falklands War ) Type 42 Sheffield-class destroyers. The first in class HMS Daring was commissioned in 2009 while the last ship of the class HMS Duncan was commissioned in 2013 just as the last of the Type 42 was being decommissioned.

Central to the Type 45 AAW destroyer is the PAAMS ( Principal Anti Air Missile System ) or Sea Viper air-defence system which utilizes the SAMPSON active electronically scanned array ( AESA ) multifunction radar and the S1850M long range radar. They are armed with Aster-15 and Aster-30 surface-to-air missiles in a 48-cell Sylver Vertical Launch System. The Aster missile is essentially an anti-missile missile capable of intercepting inbound super-sonic anti-ship missiles as well as precision guided munitions.

The Type 45s are each equipped with a 127mm main gun, two Oerlikon 30mm guns, two Phalanx CIWS, two Miniguns and six general purpose machine guns. They have a large flight deck and an enclosed hangar and can carry up to two AgustaWestland AW-159 Wildcat or one Westland Merlin helicopter. The Wildcat can be armed with four Sea Skua AShM or two torpedoes while the Merlin carries no Sea Skua but four torpedoes.

As they are primarily air-defence destroyers, the Type 45s were originally not meant to be armed with any AShM. However, plans had been formulated to have the Harpoon anti-ship missile system retrofitted onto four out of the six Type 45 destroyers and the integration process had already been completed on three ships so far ( HMS Daring, HMS Diamond and HMS Duncan ).

Type 45 AAW destroyer HMS Diamond with Mk7 Sea King
from 857 NAS. Source RN

Type-45 DDG HMS Defender. Source : RN

To understand why only four ( maybe just three from now on ) of the six Type 45 Daring-class AAW destroyers were planned to be equipped with Harpoons, we need to go further back in history to look at a previous class of ASW frigate that had long since retired, the Type 22 Broadsword-class.

The RN's fourteen Type 22s were procured in three separate batches over a period spanning eleven years between 1974 and 1985. Each succession batch was an improvement over the previous one. The first ten Batch 1 and Batch 2 ships were ordered before the Falklands War and were equipped with the Exocet AShM. The last four Batch 3 frigates were ordered after the conflict and incorporated the more advanced Harpoon AShM.

The Type 22 Batch 3 frigates were all decommissioned in 2011, just shortly after the commissioning of the first Type 45 destroyer in 2009. It seemed that some admiralty brass retrospectively decided to salvage the Harpoon missile system from the decommissioned frigates and mount them on the Type 45 for added anti-surface warfare ( ASuW ) capabilities.

While I have generally do not have an issue with the reuse and recycling of old equipment especially if they are still in good functioning order, to install an obsolete AShM system on a brand new destroyer for the mission critical purpose of taking out the surface fleet of your enemy at stand-off range may not be the smartest move. The development of the Harpoon missile started as long ago as the mid sixties and was at the cutting edge of technology when it was first deployed in the eighties. However, after more than three decades and no matter how many improvements had been made to each successive variant including the latest Block II Harpoon, the entire family is facing obsolescence with the emergence of whole new generations of long range super-sonic anti-ship cruise missiles from Russia, India and China.

We shall now take a closer look at the RN's Harpoons and Sea Skua missiles.

The Royal Navy's Anti-Ship Missiles

The RN has only two types of AShM in its inventory - the Boeing Harpoon missile and the MBDA Sea Skua missile, both of which are ageing and obsolete.

The Harpoon Missile

The Harpoon is an all-weather, beyond-the-horizon, anti-ship missile that was developed and manufactured by McDonnell Douglas ( now Boeing ). It was first introduced into service in 1977. To date, there are several versions that could be launched from different platforms such as aircrafts, warships, submarines and costal batteries.

Both the Type 23 frigates and three out of the six Type 45 destroyer are equipped with the GWS60 Harpoon AShM, essentially a Boeing RGM-84D Block 1C Harpoon ship-to-ship missile. The Block 1C Harpoon is an early version that was introduced in 1985 and equipped the US military and its allies. It is hopelessly outdated by today even by the USN's own standards, superseded by newer variants like the littoral warfare capable RGM-84L Harpoon Block II. It would fair even poorer when compared with foreign modern AShM like the ramjet powered supersonic BrahMos ( 290km range ) or the future hypersonic BrahMos II.

Harpoons Away! Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Gettysburg
( CG-64 ) fires a Harpoon missile at the ex-USNS Saturn
during a SINKEX in the Atlantic Ocean 27th Oct 2010. Photo : USN   

The Block 1C Harpoon has a maximum range of 130km and carries a 220kg high explosive - fragmentation warhead, considered a heavyweight in anti-ship missiles, enough to sink a frigate-sized warship. It has a long cylindrical body that measures 4.63m in length and 0.343m in diameter with a wingspan of 0.9m. It weighs 690kg and is propelled by a solid fuel rocket booster during launch and then followed by the Teledyne J402-CA-400 turbojet that enables it to cruise at the sub-sonic speed of Mach 0.9 at wave-top level. The missile depends on inertial navigation to reach its pre-designated target area and then switch to active radar homing for terminal guidance. Block 1C upgrade brought with it an increase in the missile's range and allows the operator to have programmable waypoints, selectable terminal flight profile ( whether to pop up from sea skimming during the final part of the flight path ) and improved electronic counter-countermeasures ( ECCM ).

The Mk 141 quad-packed Harpoon Guided Missile Launching System.
 Photo : Wikicommons 

The Harpoon missiles are packed in sealed canisters and stacked 2 x 2 in a quad-pack rack-mounted launcher known as the Mk 141 Guided Missile Launching System. Each ship usually has 2 quad launchers angled at about 45 degrees skywards and facing two opposing directions. In older and less stealthy ships like the Type 23 frigates, these canister launchers would be placed on the upper deck areas anywhere from the forecastle ( Type 23 ) to midship to the quarterdeck ( Ticonderoga-class CG ) areas. In modern stealth designs like the Formidable-class frigate of the Singapore Navy, the Harpoons are usually mounted midship out of sight behind high panels that shield the angular and protruding shape of the launcher from radar detection.

HMS Montrose, a Type 23 frigate of the Royal Navy fires its Harpoon missile
 in an undated photo. Source : RN

The active radar homing terminal guidance of the Harpoon missile meant that it is best used against warships in the open ocean far from any surrounding land masses that could lead to the interference of radar clutter. It would not perform well in a littoral environment nor would it be effective around busy sea lanes with lots of innocent maritime traffic as the seeker could home in on the wrong target.

It is important to remember that imperfect and obsolete as it is, the Harpoon missile still packs a greater punch and has a further reach than Sea Skua missile and the 5 inch gun of the Type 23 and Type 45 warships. However, repeated cuts in defense budget of the United Kingdom in the past decade have ensured that there wasn't a Harpoon replacement program in sight even as the Harpoons were slowing rotting away. Apparently the decision to abandon the Harpoon missile has been made by the Ministry of Defense as far back as 2010. Its eventual replacement may only come a decade later in the form of a future vertically launched heavy-weight AShM onboard the Type 26 Global Combat Ship.

Rather than facing a ten year capability gap in long range anti-surface strike, the RN could have elected to continue the maintenance and usage of the Harpoon missile until such time its replacement is available. This would probably be the cheapest option. Other options include upgrading to newer variants of the Harpoon like the extended range Harpoon Block II+ ER or some other advanced AShMs like the Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile. These upgrades can then be transferred to the Type 26 when the Type 23 frigates are decommissioned.

The Sea Skua Missile

The Sea Skua is a British light-weight, all-weather, short range, sub-sonic sea-skimming AShM that is primarily launched by the Westland Lynx helicopter although variants could be launched from warships and coastal batteries. It was developed by the British Aircraft Corporation in 1972 and entered service with the RN in 1982, just in time to participate in the Falklands Conflict where it performed well, scoring seven hits out of nine missiles fired. Two Argentinian patrol crafts the Alferez Sobral and Rio Iguazuwere severely damaged with loss of lives and an abandoned cargo ship the Rio Carcarana was sunk. During the 1991 Gulf War, all the Sea Skuas that were fired hit their Iraqi targets and were credited to have disabled or sunk a total of fifteen patrol vessels and landing crafts.

The Sea Skua missile weighs 145kg at launch and carries a 28kg blast-fragmentation warhead or a 9kg semi-armour piercing warhead. A total of four Sea Skua missiles could be carried by each Lynx naval helicopter. It has an officially acknowledged range of 25km though it is widely believed to have a much further effective range. The guidance system is semi-active radar homing. When launched, the missile could be programmed to fly, depending on the sea state, at four pre-determined altitudes above the waves with the assistance of a radar altimeter. As it races towards its target at a high sub-sonic speed of Mach 0.8, it performs a pop-up maneuver to acquire the target which would be illuminated by the Lynx helicopter's Ferranti Seaspray radar.

A Royal Malaysia Navy Super Lynx 300 with Sea Skua missiles circa 2004.
 Photo : Andrew Simpson / JetPhotos.Net

An inert Sea Skua missile on the deck of a Kuwaiti warship
at a joint firing exercise with coalition forces during
Operation Enduring Freedom 12th Mar 2002. USN Photo. 

Although the Sea Skua had an impressive operational history, its Achilles' heel was its relatively short range and its small warhead. As the range of modern ship-borne anti-air missiles increased over the years, so has the stand-off range for any naval helicopter to launch its AShM without getting itself into harm's way, meaning the range of its AShM has to be correspondingly increased. The Sea Skua is already obsolete in that sense. Its feather-weight warhead also meant that it could only be effectively used against warships of low tonnage or else multiple direct hits have to be scored to disable a bigger vessel. Therefore after an illustrious service of close to 35 years with the RN, the admiralty had decided to retire the Sea Skua missile by March 2017.

The unfortunate thing is that the Sea Skua's successor, the MBDA Sea Venom / ANL missile system is still in its final development and will not see service until at least sometime in late 2020, that is if things happened on schedule which is rarely the case.

MBDA Sea Venom, previously known as the FASGW(H)
 - Future Anti-Surface Guided Weapon ( Heavy ) or the
Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) missile on the RN
AugustaWestland AW159 Wildcat HMA2 helicopter.
Image : MBDA

The Sea Venom or in this case the Anti-Navire Léger (ANL) missile
fired from what looks like a French Navy AS565 Panther helicopter.
 Image : MBDA

The Immediate Future of the Royal Navy

Looking at what is currently happening to the once proud Royal Navy, without any fleet carriers, may not have F-35Bs to populate the carriers even when they are commissioned in the future, with frigate and destroyer numbers at an all time low, and with them about to lose all of their long range anti-surface strike capabilities, one cannot help but wonder what are the possible consequences that could arise out of this almost criminal neglect of the navy.

It is precisely because the RN is in such a poor state that social media campaign groups
like existed. 

To start off with, the RN may not be able to fulfill its obligations to NATO as the guardian of the GIUK Gap to contain the Russian navy in the North Atlantic. Without long range heavy-weight AShM, the frigates and destroyers will simply be sitting ducks that can be taken out by their Russian counterparts from stand-off distances without having a chance to strike back. No doubt the newly installed Sea Ceptor anti-air missiles might protect the ships but they are purely defensive in nature and the enemy only has to be lucky for once and you are dead. And nobody could win a war by purely defensive moves!

The other issue with a weakened RN is its capability to uphold the United Kingdom's sovereign claim on the Falkland Islands. As we all know, the Argentinian government had never given up its claim on the Falkland Islands even after narrowing losing the Falklands War in 1982. Had they been able to sink one of the aircraft carriers or the Fearless-class amphibious assault ships instead of the Type 42 destroyers and Type 21 frigates, the war would have had a very different outcome.

Today, with the light carriers decommissioned and their Sea Harriers retired, Vulcan bombers long gone, and the shrunken surface fleet that will soon be stripped of their AShM, the UK will not be able to mount a similar expeditionary force to the South Atlantic should the Argentinians decide to cause trouble. All these cost cutting moves taken by the British MOD in the past decades could only be viewed as a lack of resolve to enforce Crown sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, just as the decision to decommission the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes and the planned withdrawal of the Antarctic Survey Ship HMS Endurance from the South Atlantic did in the early eighties. Also, as the United States become increasingly inward looking with the new Trump Presidency, the UK may not necessarily get all the assistance they enjoyed previously from their once staunchest ally during the Falklands War, like the intense diplomatic brokering, the massive support within the Security Council of the United Nations, timely military intelligence and emergency ordnance resupply using borrowed NATO stockpiles.

If the lack of funds was the reason why the Harpoon and the Sea Skua systems are to be removed from service prematurely, I would suggest the UK MOD not to upgrade the Sea Wolf system of the Type 23 frigates and instead use the GBP 253 million or so that they have spent on the Sea Ceptor to maintain the older missile systems for another few years, until a suitable replacement can be put into service.

Sir Michael Fallon should seriously ask himself this before he retires the Harpoon and the Sea Skua : Would the Junta view the year 2019 or 2020 as the best time for another Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands? Does the UK wish the Falklands to be renamed the Islas MALVINAS, again, ever? Or never again? Tough choices indeed. God save the Queen ... and the Royal Navy.