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Australian SEA 5000 competition climax- can the Type 26 frigate achieve export success?

Sometime in June, the Australian government will announce which of the three contenders has won the competition for the programme to construct 9 anti-submarine frigates. Should BAE Systems’ bid be successful, it would be the most significant naval export success for the UK for decades with benefits for the Royal Navy.

The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) plans to replace its eight ANZAC class MEKO 200 frigates with nine new vessels. Seeking foreign assistance for a domestic construction programme, the competition is now between three contenders; from Britain, BAE System’s Global Combat Ship-Australia (GCS-A) based on the Type 26 frigate, from Italy the Fincantieri FREMM ASW variant and from Spain, the Navantia F-5000. The competition is tight and each of the options has merits as well as drawbacks. So far there have been no leaks or indicators that there is a clear official favourite.

Until well into the 1970s the vast majority of the Australian Navy’s fleet was either built in Britain or were derived from Royal Navy designs. Dismal industrial strategy saw the UK retreat almost entirely from the warship export market but this competition (and the Type 31 project) offer hope for a modest revival. BAE Systems is now a global defence manufacturing powerhouse and its CGS meets the majority of Australia’s requirements. The SEA 5000 is a big prize with an estimated value of around Aus$ 35Bn (£19.5Bn) over the 30-year lifetime of the ships.

The BAE Systems GCS-A

The GCS is the most advanced anti-submarine surface combatant design available anywhere in the world today. Its critics will say that it represents a risk because it will be several years before the first vessels are at sea and the design is unproven. You may be able to step aboard a Fincantieri FREMM or a Navatia AWD today but these vessels are based on a design that pre-dates the GCS by at least a decade. The Royal Navy’s Type 26 frigate programme has been exceptionally drawn-out but it is the most modern design and will be able to assimilate rapid technological developments happening now and even during the construction programme. Although the GCS is very sophisticated, it cannot be described as radical and is an evolution of the well-proven Type 23 frigate. Much of the technology is being de-risked aboard the Type 23 or before construction using land-based test rigs for the propulsion, electrical and transmission system. The Rolls Royce MT30 gas turbine is already at sea on HMS Queen Elizabeth and is designed to work in hot conditions. It is actually 15-20% more efficient operating with an ambient air temperature up to 40º than the LM 2500 GT used in both of the other competing designs.

The entire GCS design has been rendered using a cutting-edge virtual reality platform. This networked VR system allows naval personnel, suppliers and engineers at dispersed locations to understand the vessel and refine internal ergonomics before manufacture. BAES is a world-leader in utilising this approach to warship design.

The GCS is an anti-submarine thoroughbred, designed from the keel up to be as quiet as possible. Building on the experience of the Type 23, every effort has been made to reduce self-radiated noise which might interfere with sensitive sonars or alert submarines to the ship’s presence. Primary acoustic hygiene measures include placing the diesel generators above the waterline, raft-mounting machinery, hull shaping and precise propellor design. Every potential source of noise is considered such as avoiding right angle bends in pipework or acoustic enclosures for auxiliary machinery. These measures increase the size of the vessel, adding to initial costs but cannot be effectively retrofitted into an old ship. All three competitors will have similar bow-mounted sonar and effective towed array sonars. Besides the sensor hardware in the water, what determines their effectiveness in detecting submarines is the quietness of the platform, the processing technology on board and the skill of the operators.

  • The GCS-A in commission with the RAN.

  • Rolled out of the construction hall at the new BAE Systems digital construction yard in Adelaide.

  • Lowered into the water on the shiplfift.

  • Alongside test and commissioning of combat systems and propulsion.

  • The Australian land-based test and integration facility, for de-risking of the Radar, Combat System, Communications and Platform management equipment.

The GSC-A is also the largest of the 3 designs with ample space for future growth, in particular generating capacity to support directed energy weapons and high power sensors. A defining feature of the GCS-A lacking in the other proposals is the large central mission bay. This flexible space can be utilised for a variety of roles, especially to deploy & recover unmanned systems which are rapidly evolving and are likely to be central to naval warfare in future. UUVs and USVs offer the potential to further expand ASW reach and presence. UAVs can also provide long-range surveillance or targeting information for naval gunfire support using the 5-inch, Mk 45 Mod 4 gun. Alternatively, the space can be quickly reconfigured with mine hunting systems, medical facilities or aid supplies in support of humanitarian missions.

The reference GCS-A has a slightly different weapon and senior fit to the RN’s Type 26. The Artisan radar will be replaced by the CEAFAR active phased array radar developed in Australia. The European Sea Ceptor SAM will not be fitted, instead, the number of MK41 VLS cells will be increased from 24 to 36 and will carry US-made missiles while Harpoon anti-ship missiles will also be mounted. Potentially the most challenging technical requirement is the decision to fit the Lockheed Martin AEGIS system instead of the native BAES Combat Management System (CMS).

The plan is that the first steel would be cut in Australia in 2020 for the prototyping phase, designed to prove the processes and new production facilities. Full production would commence in 2022 with the first ship due to be delivered around 2027. Contrary to claims that the GCS-A would be “the first of class prototype” the schedule will see HMS Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast in production ahead of the first Australian ship, making the lead GCS-A the 4th of class, with the Royal Navy taking the lead in understanding the design, developing its capabilities and addressing any snags.

GCS – mutually beneficial for the RN and RAN

Should BAE systems be successful, there would be considerable benefits for the RN and British industry. On a strategic level, Britain and Australia have similar a culture and interests, both are part of the Five-Eyes (FVEY) agreement for the sharing of classified intelligence. An exchange of highly sensitive ASW tactical information and experience would flow naturally from joint GCS ownership. The RAN has conducted personnel exchanges with the RN going back to the founding of the navy and this mutually beneficial joint experience would only increase. Success would also be a boost for post-Brexit Britain, looking to expand its exports on a more global basis and would fit well with a recent renewal of RN presence in the Pacific.

Although the armament, sensors and combat system fitted to the GCS will differ in some respects, there would still be a significant commonality of components that will come from the UK, especially the propulsion system. Economies of scale across the supply chain could help reduce both construction and through-life costs for both nations.

The Australian government has funded the cost of refining the Type 26 into the detailed GCS-A proposal and around 100 people have been employed in the project teams in Glasgow and Australia. Should the design be selected, there would be further work for these valuable specialists, with an emphasis on a transfer of engineering and project management skills to Australia. Success would vindicate the GCS design and help offset the disappointment of being eliminated from the US Navy’s FFG(X) competition, it could also encourage Canada to join the programme. Should both the RAN and RCN adopt the GCS, the three close allies will be operating a total fleet of 32 sister ships.

The Fincantieri FREMM-A

The successful Franco-Italian project to design a common hull for as a basis for several frigate designs has a confirmed programme of 20 ships so far. The FREMM (Fregata Europea Multi-Missione) design is mature and the ASW variant is the best in its class of any European navy, at least until superseded by the Type 26. The FREMM is a serious contender and the general purpose vision has already attracted export orders from Greece, Morocco and Egypt, with the USN navy considering the ASW variant for the FFG(X). Fincantieri is one of the worlds largest shipbuilders but has not constructed ships in Australia before, lacking the incumbency of Navantia and BAES but the ship design is seen as a safe bet. It is making great promises to Australian industry and can offer the example of a past technology and skills transfer to the US where they invested heavily in Fincantieri Marinette Marine (FMM) and now building ships for USN.

Claims that the FREMM design is now “combat proven” after operations against Syria on 14 April are rather stretching a point. Only one of the three French FREMM frigates deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean successfully managed to launch MdCN land attack missiles. Technical problems prevented further launches. It should also be noted that since World War II, the RN has accumulated far more combat experience than any other European navy.

FREMM-A

The Italian Fincantieri FREMM-A contender. An eye-catching, if completely unrealistic image showing all nine frigates at sea simultaneously and in very close company.

The Navantia F-5000

The F-5000 proposal is essentially the Air Warfare Destroyer (AWD) hull design with a modified weapon and sonar fit. The big advantage from an industrial and cost perspective will be the commonality with equipment already in service with the RAN, potentially offering a seamless transition for personnel already trained on similar systems.

The AWD is not a quiet ship, the combined GT and Diesel propulsion is inherently noisy but it is expected that in the F-5000 electric drive modules will be added and coupled to the main reduction gears to offer a quiet running mode. Hull shaping and many other systems do not meet the acoustic quietening standards. Either the F-5000 will have to be substantially re-engineered or if there is little modification, then the RAN must accept an anti-submarine capability very much inferior to the other two options.

Theoretically, the F-5000 building process should be smooth as the yards already have experience constructing this type of vessel but the construction of the preceding AWD has not been without problems. The AWD Alliance and Navantia were criticised for construction errors, faulty drawings, delays and cost overruns. There were also considerable disputes over workmanship between Navantia and the Norwegians during their construction of the similar F-310 Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates. Navantia is owned and subsidised by the Spanish government.

Navantia-F-5000

The Spanish Navantia-F-5000 contender. Evolved from the Hobart class air warfare destroyers (AWDs) and externally almost identical.

Shipbuilding is always political

It would be unwise to assume the SEA 5000 competition will simply be won by the best ASW ship. Shipbuilding decisions are always made in the context of industrial and political factors that do not always provide navies with the ships it needs or wants. Navantia maybe seen as the home team, with an established shipbuilding base that is already delivering ships for the RAN and may also benefit from links to the RAN and the political establishment. BAE Systems (in its previous guise as GEC Marconi) has been working in Australia for 65 years, already has the largest number of employees in the region and are also well-versed in political lobbying. As in all types of business, personal contacts, relationships and trust may count for more than the product itself and each team will be maximising opportunities to influence the relevant officials.

What is not in the public domain is the approximate cost of each ship. The UK is known to be paying almost £1Bn per ship for the Type 26 but this includes development costs the Australians will not have to bear. The 3 Navatia AWD ships ended up costing around £1.7bn each while the Italian FREMM looks cheapest at around £600M. These figures are not much of a guide as final costs depend on many variables such as equipment fit and the level of government-supplied equipment

For the politicians who have the final say on the decision, funnelling employment and economic benefits to electorates may be the overriding factor. The Australian government wants to use the programme to expand the potential for its own future defence exports, while being seen to prioritise national security. The end-users in the Australian Navy seem to think the GCS-A is the best platform. Captain Duncan McRae, RAN said;

“The Type 26 provides the Navy with not only the most effective ASW hull, specifically designed for the role, considering noise signatures and sensor and weapon use, but also the clearest winner in regard to “future-proofing.”

China now has the second largest fleet of submarines in the world with much new construction and step-change in the quality of new boats. Many other nations in the Asia-Pacific region are investing heavily in quiet new submarines. If an island nation like Australia is really serious about defending itself only the best ASW platform will do.

 

from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/australian-sea-5000-competition-climax-can-the-type-26-frigate-achieve-export-success/

RFA Fort Victoria modified to support the aircraft carriers

RFA Fort Victoria is currently mid-way through a major refit at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. The usual maintenance and machinery overhauls are being conducted but she is also being modified to provide solid stores replenishment to the aircraft carriers.

Critical to the ability of Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers to deploy globally will be the support of auxiliary ships to supply oil and solid stores. The 4 Tide class tankers have been specifically designed to be compatible with the QEC and all 4 ships are expected to be in commission by the time HMS Queen Elizabeth conducts her first full operational deployment in 2021. While the supply of Dieso (F76) and aviation fuel (F44) to the carriers at sea is relatively straight forward, the arrangements for the transfer of bulk ammunition, dry stores and food is more complicated.

Replenishing the carriers with stores at sea

The 3 solid stores ships that remain in service with the RFA are fitted with NATO standard heavy jackstay replenishment rigs designed to transfer loads up to 2 tonnes. Rolls Royce has developed a completely new fast, high-capacity Heavy Replenishment at Sea (HRAS) system that can transfer 25 loads per hour of up to 6 tonnes. A complete land-based HRAS system for trials and training was installed at HMS Raliegh and has been in use since 2014. The ability to transfer large loads quickly reduces the window of vulnerability when the carrier is constrained by having to steam at restricted speed (typically 10-15 knots) parallel to the replenishment ship. HRAS combined with the advanced stores handling facilities of the QEC means large loads can be delivered into the spacious hangar and struck down into the storerooms deep in the ship, quickly and efficiently with minimal manpower.

US aircraft carriers benefit from Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft that can deliver large and bulky items to the ship by air. There is no designated COD aircraft for the QEC. (Theoretically, non-marinised RAF Chinooks could be used in this role for short-medium range stores delivery. A UK purchase of V-22 Osprey is unlikely to be funded anytime soon). HRAS is therefore particularly important for the QEC and the original specification required the system be capable of transferring heavy and bulky items such as packaged Storm Shadow missile or a complete F135 jet engine for an F-35. It should be noted that there is currently no plan to integrate Storm Shadow on the F-35 but HRAS offers the option for resupply at sea for this and future large air-launched stand-off missiles.

The older RFA Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin are fitted with 3 pivoted arm Mk IA replenishment rigs (2 on the starboard and 1 on port side). This kind of rig is incompatible with the HRAS rigs fitted to the QEC and also lack the height required. It is clearly not worth upgrading the two much older Fort-class, due to go out of service by 2024, of which only one is active at a time. Lack of manpower and an effort to prolong their lives has seen these ships rotate between periods in lay-up in Birkenhead and on active service. Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin will only be able to transfer stores to the carrier by helicopter – vertical replenishment (VERTREP). Using helicopters to transfer underslung loads from the flight deck across to the receiving ship is more expensive in fuel and wear and tear on aircraft and can be constrained by weather conditions. The QEC is fitted with an additional small vertical lift towards the rear of the flight deck specifically designed to take stores that arrive by VERTREP down into the ship without the need to use the aircraft lifts.

Rig modification

RFA Fort Victoria is fitted with 4 Clarke-Chapman sliding padeye rigs, 2 port and 2 starboard, of a more modern design. Like the HRAS system, the padeye which carries the main weigh of the jackstay can be raised and lowered by chains running up and down the inside of the ‘goalpost’ gantry. The gantries are also much higher than in the older Fort class and are being adapted by CL to be compatible with the QEC. RFA Fort Victoria will emerge from this refit able to transfer stores to the carrier but will still be limited to 2-tonne transfers, primarily because she does not have the internal equipment to handle such large loads. Only when the new purpose-built Fleet Solid Support ships (FSS) fitted with HRAS rigs and mechanised stores handling systems arrive in the mid-2020s, will the full 6-tonnes be possible. When the QEC is conducting RAS, the gantry (moveable high point) is lowered, the jackstay cables attached and connect to the replenishment ship through the two open hangar doors on the starboard side of the ship. If both rigs were to be used simultaneously it will require the new FSS to have 2 HRAS rigs fitted on its port side and spaced the same distance.

  • RFA Fort Victoria Refit Cammell Laird

    Replenishment rigs shrouded in scaffolding for maintenance and modifications. (Note the funnel tops have been returned to their original grey colour) Photo: Phil Prince, April 2018

  • Unglamorous routine ship repair work – stripping back to bare mental for re-painting in places. Photo: Phil Prince

  • General arrangement of the Clarke-Chapman sliding padeye rig fitted to RFA Fort Victoria.

  • The one stop shop… RFA Fort Victoria provides solid stores and Fuel to USS Monterey in the Gulf of Aden. Photo: US Navy

  • Examples of ordnance loads that could be transferred from RFA Fort Victoria to the carrier (within the 2-tonne limit).

  • HRAS Moveable High Points in the lowered position in the hangar of HMS Queen Elizabeth as it will be when used to transfer solid stores at sea.

  • When not in use, the moveable high point is raised to the deckhead of so as not to obstruct aircraft movements on and off the lifts.

  • Starboard mid-ships section of RFA Fort Rosalie showing the older pivoted arm replenishment rigs (in the lowered position).

Double-hulling

Fort Victoria is a unique vessel in the naval service being an AOR (auxiliary Oiler/Replenisher), a combined stores ship and oil tanker. The International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Pollution (MARPOL) regulations that govern the design of merchant vessels were amended in 1992, stipulating that all oil tankers over 5,000 tons dwt would be required to have double-hulls. A history of environmentally damaging oil spills created pressure to attempt to mitigate the effects of tankers running aground. Fort Victoria was designed in the 1980s and was completing construction just as the regulations changed. Supposedly all single-hulled tankers should have been modified or scrapped by 2008 and several RFA vessels were sailing in breach of the rule for a few years. As Fort Vic is expected to remain in service, at least until the last FSS is delivered in the late 2020s, modification to meet MAROPOL standards had to be addressed. Constructing the double-hull involves adding plating inside the existing oil tanks, a potentially hazardous and unpleasant task for CL welders. Double-hull construction is more complex than it may first appear as the gap between the outer and inner hull can suffer corrosion or gas build up and must be accessible for inspection and maintenance.

Fort Vic can embark 3,377 m3 of ordnance and 2,941 m3 of dry stores. Her original oil capacity was a total of 11,000 tonnes but this will be reduced by the double-hull modifications. For context, to completely fill the QEC diesel fuel tanks requires around 4,800 tonnes with a further capacity of approximately 3,700 tonnes for aviation fuel. (Fort Vic can provide oil as well as stores but the QEC are likely to rely on the Tide class tankers as their main supplier of oil at sea).

The golden contract

If there is one thing a shipyard likes, it’s a guarantee of regular work. Cammel Laird has thrived recently, in part due to the Cluster contract with the MoD that made them the sole provider of maintenance for several RFA vessels. CL won the initial contract in 2008 for Lot 3, comprising RFA Wave Ruler, Wave Knight, Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin & Fort Victoria. In 2013 the contract was extended but it is due for renewal again this year. CL will be very keen to continue the arrangement, now called the Future In-Service Support (FISS) contract, and will probably be in competition with A&P Falmouth and Babcock (Devonport & Rosyth) who are likely to bid for one or more of the ‘lots’. (Lot 1 comprises RFA Argus, Lyme Bay, Cardigan Bay, Mounts Bay and HMS Scott, Lot 2 are RFA Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce.) Efficient completion of this particularly important refit of RFA Fort Victoria would obviously be helpful to CL in this bidding process.

With years of experience maintaining the Fort and Wave class vessels, CL would appear to be in pole position retain Lot 3 but the MOD is under pressure from the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) to ensure this type of competition is “fair and transparent”. Ironically, at the time of writing, government is still blindly ploughing on with an international competition to build the FSS ships. This process cannot be described as ‘fair’ because British yards, which are likely to include CL, will be in competition with state-subsidised foreign yards. Should Cammell Laird be successful in one or more of its bids for FISS lots, the Type 31 frigate project or be involved in constructing the FSS ships, the continued revival of this large shipyard will be good news for the Navy and the economy of the North West.

 

Main image: Gerry Rudman, January 2018, via Flickr

 

 

from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/rfa-fort-victoria-modified-to-support-the-aircraft-carriers/

RFA Fort Victoria modified to support the aircraft carriers

RFA Fort Victoria is currently mid-way through a major refit at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead. The usual maintenance and machinery overhauls are being conducted but she is also being modified to provide solid stores replenishment to the aircraft carriers.

Critical to the ability of Queen Elizabeth Class (QEC) aircraft carriers to deploy globally will be the support of auxiliary ships to supply oil and solid stores. The 4 Tide class tankers have been specifically designed to be compatible with the QEC and all 4 ships are expected to be in commission by the time HMS Queen Elizabeth conducts her first full operational deployment in 2021. While the supply of Dieso (F76) and aviation fuel (F44) to the carriers at sea is relatively straight forward, the arrangements for the transfer of bulk ammunition, dry stores and food is more complicated.

Replenishing the carriers with stores at sea

The 3 solid stores ships that remain in service with the RFA are fitted with NATO standard heavy jackstay replenishment rigs designed to transfer loads up to 2 tonnes. Rolls Royce has developed a completely new fast, high-capacity Heavy Replenishment at Sea (HRAS) system that can transfer 25 loads per hour of up to 6 tonnes. A complete land-based HRAS system for trials and training was installed at HMS Raliegh and has been in use since 2014. The ability to transfer large loads quickly reduces the window of vulnerability when the carrier is constrained by having to steam at restricted speed (typically 10-15 knots) parallel to the replenishment ship. HRAS combined with the advanced stores handling facilities of the QEC means large loads can be delivered into the spacious hangar and struck down into the storerooms deep in the ship, quickly and efficiently with minimal manpower.

US aircraft carriers benefit from Carrier Onboard Delivery (COD) aircraft that can deliver large and bulky items to the ship by air. There is no designated COD aircraft for the QEC. (Theoretically, non-marinised RAF Chinooks could be used in this role for short-medium range stores delivery. A UK purchase of V-22 Osprey is unlikely to be funded anytime soon). HRAS is therefore particularly important for the QEC and the original specification required the system be capable of transferring heavy and bulky items such as packaged Storm Shadow missile or a complete F135 jet engine for an F-35. It should be noted that there is currently no plan to integrate Storm Shadow on the F-35 but HRAS offers the option for resupply at sea for this and future large air-launched stand-off missiles.

The older RFA Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin are fitted with 3 pivoted arm Mk IA replenishment rigs (2 on the starboard and 1 on port side). This kind of rig is incompatible with the HRAS rigs fitted to the QEC and also lack the height required. It is clearly not worth upgrading the two much older Fort-class, due to go out of service by 2024, of which only one is active at a time. Lack of manpower and an effort to prolong their lives has seen these ships rotate between periods in lay-up in Birkenhead and on active service. Fort Rosalie and Fort Austin will only be able to transfer stores to the carrier by helicopter – vertical replenishment (VERTREP). Using helicopters to transfer underslung loads from the flight deck across to the receiving ship is more expensive in fuel and wear and tear on aircraft and can be constrained by weather conditions. The QEC is fitted with an additional small vertical lift towards the rear of the flight deck specifically designed to take stores that arrive by VERTREP down into the ship without the need to use the aircraft lifts.

Rig modification

RFA Fort Victoria is fitted with 4 Clarke-Chapman sliding padeye rigs, 2 port and 2 starboard, of a more modern design. Like the HRAS system, the padeye which carries the main weigh of the jackstay can be raised and lowered by chains running up and down the inside of the ‘goalpost’ gantry. The gantries are also much higher than in the older Fort class and are being adapted by CL to be compatible with the QEC. RFA Fort Victoria will emerge from this refit able to transfer stores to the carrier but will still be limited to 2-tonne loads. Only when the new purpose-built Fleet Solid Support ships (FSS) fitted with HRAS rigs arrive in the mid-2020s will the full 6-tonnes be possible. When the QEC is conducting RAS, the gantry is lowered, the jackstay cables attached and connect to the replenishment ship through the two open hangar doors on the starboard side of the ship. If both rigs were to be used simultaneously it will require the new FSS to have 2 HRAS rigs fitted on its port side and spaced the same distance.

  • RFA Fort Victoria Refit Cammell Laird

    Replenishment rigs shrouded in scaffolding for maintenance and modifications. (Note the funnel tops have been returned to their original grey colour) Photo: Phil Prince, April 2018

  • Unglamorous routine ship repair work – stripping back to bare mental for re-painting in places. Photo: Phil Prince

  • General arrangement of the Clarke-Chapman padeye rig fitted to RFA Fort Victoria

  • The one stop shop… RFA Fort Victoria provides solid stores and Fuel to USS Monterey in the Gulf of Aden. Photo: US Navy

  • Examples of ordnance loads that could be transferred from RFA Fort Victoria to the carrier (within the 2-tonne limit).

  • HRAS gantry in the lowered position in the hangar of HMS Queen Elizabeth as it will be when used to transfer solid stores at sea.

  • When not in use, the HRAS gantry is raised to the deckhead of so as not to obstruct aircraft movements on and off the lifts.

  • Starboard mid-ships section of RFA Fort Rosalie showing the older pivoted arm replenishment rigs (in the lowered position).

Double-hulling

Fort Victoria is a unique vessel in the naval service being an AOR (auxiliary Oiler/Replenisher), a combined stores ship and oil tanker. The International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Pollution (MARPOL) regulations that govern the design of merchant vessels were amended in 1992, stipulating that all oil tankers over 5,000 tons dwt would be required to have double-hulls. A history of environmentally damaging oil spills created pressure to attempt to mitigate the effects of tankers running aground. Fort Victoria was designed in the 1980s and was completing construction just as the regulations changed. Supposedly all single-hulled tankers should have been modified or scraped by 2008 and several RFA vessels were sailing in breach of the rule for a few years. As Fort Vic is expected to remain in service, at least until the last FSS is delivered in the late 2020s, modification to meet MAROPOL standards had to be addressed. Constructing the double-hull involves adding plating inside the existing oil tanks, a potentially hazardous and unpleasant task for CL welders. Double-hull construction is more complex than it may first appear as the gap between the outer and inner hull can suffer corrosion or gas build up and must be accessible for inspection and maintenance.

Fort Vic can embark 3,377 m3 of ordnance and 2,941 m3 of dry stores. Her original oil capacity was a total of 11,000 tonnes but this will be reduced by the double-hull modifications. For context, to completely fill the QEC diesel fuel tanks requires around 4,800 tonnes with a further capacity of approximately 3,700 tonnes for aviation fuel. (Fort Vic can provide oil as well as stores but the QEC are likely to rely on the Tide class tankers as their main supplier of oil at sea).

The golden contract

If there is one thing a shipyard likes its a guarantee of regular work. Cammel Laird has thrived recently, in part due to the Cluster contract with the MoD that made them the sole provider of maintenance for several RFA vessels. CL won the initial contract in 2008 for Lot 3, comprising RFA Wave Ruler, Wave Knight, Fort Rosalie, Fort Austin & Fort Victoria. In 2013 the contract was extended but it is due for renewal again this year. CL will be very keen to continue the arrangement now called the Future In-Service Support (FISS) contract and will probably be in competition with A&P Falmouth and Babcock (Devonport & Rosyth) who are likely to bid for one or more of the ‘lots’. (Lot 1 comprises RFA Argus, Lyme Bay, Cardigan Bay, Mounts Bay and HMS Scott, Lot 2 are RFA Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce.) Efficient completion of this particularly important refit of RFA Fort Victoria would obviously be helpful to CL in this bidding process.

With years of experience maintaining the Fort and Wave class vessels, CL would appear to be in pole position retain Lot 3 but the MOD is under pressure from the Single Source Regulations Office (SSRO) to ensure this type of competition is “fair and transparent”. Ironically, at the time of writing, government is still blindly ploughing on with an international competition to build the FSS ships. This process cannot be described as very ‘fair’ because British yards, which are likely to include CL, will be in competition with state-subsidised foreign yards. Should Cammell Laird be successful in one or more of its bids for FISS lots, the Type 31 frigate project or be involved in constructing the FSS ships, the revival of this large shipyard will be good news for the Navy and the economy of the North West.

 

Main image: Gerry Rudman, January 2018, via Flickr

 

 

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/rfa-fort-victoria-modified-to-support-the-aircraft-carriers/

New Content – Easibridge Lightweight Tactical Bridging

EasiBridge offers the world’s first truly man-portable, long-span rescue/assault bridging system. Exploiting the inherent flexibility of the EasiBridge systems, a further eight engineer/infantry “Super-Kit” capabilities can be used. Key benefits include; Portability; weighing just 4kg/m the EasiBridge sections can be easily carried by dismounted personnel and handled without mechanical assistance, Span Length; gaps of up […]

The post New Content – Easibridge Lightweight Tactical Bridging appeared first on Think Defence.

from Think Defence http://www.thinkdefence.co.uk/2018/05/new-content-easibridge-lightweight-tactical-bridging/

The Royal Navy gets its first unmanned minesweeping system

The ATLAS Remote Combined Influence Minesweeping System (ARCIMS), which provides an autonomous minesweeping capability was handed over to the Royal Navy this week.

Following a period of successful trials off the Dorset coast, the demonstrator system could go on to be used by the Royal Navy in the future to defeat the threat of modern digital mnes. The system has been designed and manufactured by Atlas Elektronik UK under a £13 million contract working with DE&S and the RN’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Trials Team (MAST).

The sweeper system, features a “sense and avoid” capability and is the first step on the road to removing vulnerable ships and reducing the risk to personnel entering the minefield. The system will now undergo a series of more expansive trials with the RN. This mine-sweeping system represents a major milestone in the Navy’s transition to autonomous offboard systems to counter the threat posed to international shipping by the sea mine. Work on an associated mine-hunting system will begin in 2019.

ARCIMS will form part of the RN’s Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic capability (MHC) project. The autonomous system can be deployed from a “mothership”, but the form that will take is still far from decided. Potentially the mission bays of the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates could be utilised, along with auxiliaries or amphibious vessels. Whether the RN will ever again build dedicated minehunters is questionable. A hybrid OPV / minehunter concept like the Venari-85 is an intriguing possibility.

It is good to see the RN taking a lead in this area of innovation and Atlas Elektronik are already reporting potential export interest.

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-royal-navy-gets-its-first-unmanned-minesweeping-system/

The Deadly Trade – Book Review

£17.00 (Hardback)  £12.99 (Kindle)

5 years after the competing Hunter Killers which revealed exploits of Royal Navy submarines during the Cold War, respected naval author Iain Ballantyne has completed The Deadly Trade. This epic 729-page tome is the first of its kind, an ambitious attempt to chronicle the entire history of submarine warfare until the present day.

From the humble, even comical beginnings, submarines have evolved to become the most feared of vessels, some of which are the most destructive weapons ever created. The Deadly Trade takes us on the journey from submarines being the choice of the weak, the first asymmetric weapon for use against the great sea powers, to the present day when the ballistic missile submarine is the ultimate weapon owned only by the elite.

The little-known early history of submarine ideas and development is brought to life. The first faltering attempts were made at submarine construction during the American civil war but they were more of a danger to their crews than the enemy. Surprisingly the first viable submarine was invented by John Phillip Holland, an Irishman working in America and funded by Fenians intending to attack Royal Navy ships. The Fenian plan never succeeded but Holland continued his work and eventually provided the design for the RN’s first submarine, HMS Holland 1, commissioned in 1901.

World War 1 proved the submarine had come of age. Every surface ship was a target and early British attempts to counter submarines were haphazard and largely ineffectual. On 5th September 1914, HMS Pathfinder achieved the unwanted distinction of becoming the first warship to be sunk by a submarine when she was torpedoed by U-21 within sight of land in the Firth of Forth. Submarines delivered a strategic shock to Britain, in reality doing more than Germany’s battleships to challenge its maritime supremacy and coming close to strangling the Atlantic supply lines. Britain’s own submariners made their first real mark on naval history led by Max Horton in action during the Dardanelles campaign.

Inevitably the large part of the book is devoted to the struggle to contain the German U-boats in World War II. For Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic was arguably the most important contest of the war. Managing to keep up a narrative of the campaign that spanned the full 5 years of the conflict, the author describes plenty of individual actions in vivid detail. From the terror of being a submariner subject to depth-charging to the grim satisfaction of U-boat kills by the allied escorts, support groups and aircraft that began to decimate the U-boats after May 1943. The stoic bravery and success of WII RN submariners in the face of appalling losses, particularly in the Mediterranean, is astounding and helped inspire the high standards the service still expects today.

Where the Germans failed twice to strangle Britains shipping lifeline, US Navy submarines, once they had addressed torpedo problems, strangled the Japanese island conquests in the Pacific. Failure by the Japanese to take ASW seriously saw their merchant fleet swept from the seas, leaving their empire cut off from supply and their occupying forces doomed to defeat.

The submarine story continued unabated as WWII developed into Cold war and a new kind of undersea confrontation. In the space of 20 years, the relatively simple diesel-electric submersibles had evolved into true submarines that could stay underwater and travel at the speed of the fastest surface ship, thanks to nuclear power. Nuclear weapons, intercontinental ballistic missiles and the new submarines soon led to the SSBN ‘bomber’ the most terrifying, although ultimately stabilising, weapon the world has ever seen.

The undersea duels of the Cold War are better documented in the previous book, but coverage of the ‘sideshows’ is illuminating. The Pakistani submarine Hangor sinking the Indian frigate INS Khukri in 1971 and, of course, submarines decisive influence on the Falklands War.

Each of these individual campaigns already have many complete books devoted to specifically to them, for Ballantyne perhaps the biggest challenge must have been deciding what to leave out. The Deadly Trade has managed to deliver a narrative that is both a sound historical record but has pace, personality and excitement. The dry facts of technical developments are enlivened by plenty of personal accounts.

In truth, no complete history of submarine warfare can ever be written. Even now, under the sea submarines maybe making history, gathering critical intelligence, shadowing ships and other submarines or tapping under cables. So much remains hidden, even decades after the events, The Deadly Trade is the first valiant attempt to paint the available history on a very broad canvas. For submariners there is always less distinction between peacetime and war, than their ’skimmer’ counterparts, they must be ever vigilant, listening covertly and ready to strike and short notice. The recent publications, Hunter Killers and The Silent Deep revealed more of what the Royal Navy did in the Cold War but great gaps in the public record must remain. The exploits of Soviet and Russian submarines, in particular, would fill several volumes, yet only relatively small scraps of this history are in the public domain.

Lessons from submarine history remain very relevant today. Britain’s sea lanes of communication are perhaps now even more vulnerable than in the 20th Century. Just a few well-handled submarines could wreak havoc on the global trade, yet the UK is unwilling to fund anything like enough hunter-killer submarines or ASW assets. The book closes with a timely warning “The submarine, for good or ill, seems destined to play a major part in world events, and indeed, its activities could yet decide the fate of all humanity”

 

£17.00 (Hardback)  £12.99 (Kindle)

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/the-deadly-trade-book-review/

Storm in a teacup? A setback for the Royal Navy’s newest ship, HMS Forth

First of the new batch II River class OPVs, HMS Forth was accepted by the Royal Navy in February 2018 and formally commissioned on 13 April. After suffering a major electrical problem, she is currently alongside in Portsmouth without power. Discovery of a small number of missing, stripped and snapped bolts (marine fixings) that secure various items throughout the ship is also being addressed.

An incompatibility with the ships’s electrical switchboards and the shoreside power supply blacked out the ship earlier this week. Following established procedure, all non-essential personnel were landed as a precautionary measure, but an emergency evacuation was not necessary. The cause is under investigation by a team from BAE Systems and the subcontractors who supplied the switchboard.

Less sympathetically viewed was the discovery that around a dozen snapped bolt heads in various parts of the ship had been simply glued back on instead of being replaced. Some of these botched fastenings secured racks holding the lifeboats, although straps would prevent the liferafts falling from the ship. None of these bolts are critical to the safety of the vessel but sub-standard workmanship is clearly unacceptable. Upon discovery, BAES moved quickly to make repairs and issued an internal quality alert to all employees, demanding better performance. The contents of the alert were leaked to the media and will cause embarrassment to BAES and unwanted headlines for the RN.

HMS Forth was already undergoing a scheduled engineering period, receiving additional communications and electronics equipment when the electrical issue arose. All the faults will be rectified in the near future and it is unlikely to delay the ships work-up and sea training programme significantly. Before arriving in Portsmouth, HMS Forth had spent a total of 20 days at sea on trials and was accepted by the RN as meeting specification on 26th February. The approximately 100 small snagging issues discovered during sea trials that need to be rectified by the contractor are actually well below average for a ship of her type.

The vessel has a 12-month warranty period after acceptance and the navy will not have to fund the cost of rectifications. To sustain BAES and its workforce during delays to the commencement of the Type 26 frigate programme, a government agreement resulted in each of the Batch II River class OPVs costing around £114 Million. HMS Forth is currently the most expensive OPV in the world, the contractor can afford the repairs.

Issues of this nature are to be expected with new vessels and are not an indication of fundamentally poor design or major construction flaws. (HMS Forth is not strictly the first of her class, BAES have already delivered three similar ships for the Brazilian navy. The RN vessels are built to a higher specification and may have different electrical arrangements.) As we have witnessed in the last year, HMS Queen Elizabeth has suffered a series of well-publicised engineering problems some of which emerged into the media, out of context and in exaggerated form. None have proved to be a show-stopper and all have been quickly rectified.

Occurrences like this are not especially newsworthy, as these kind of difficulties are a normal part of operating warships the world over. Resolving engineering issues, large or small, is the whole reason that facilities like Portsmouth exist. The PR ‘optics’ may not appear ideal, “Expensive new OPV suffers technical faults just weeks after commissioning” but this is not untypical of bringing new vessels into service.

 

Rear Admiral Gardner (Senior Responsible Officer for Batch II OPVs) confirmed on her commissioning day that HMS Forth will sail for the South Atlantic in the latter part of this year and will replace HMS Clyde as the permanent Falklands guard ship. HMS Clyde is not owned by the MoD, but is leased from BAES and she will be returned to her owners, who will probably have little difficulty selling an 11-year-old ship.

Main Image: Lesley Doubleday via Flickr

 

from Save the Royal Navy http://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/storm-in-a-teacup-a-setback-for-the-royal-navys-newest-ship-hms-forth/