Monday, 16 July 2018

In focus: The highly versatile Bay class auxiliaries

Like so many defence procurements, the delivery of the Bay Class landing ships was protracted and over-budget. Despite their difficult birth, the three vessels that remain in the fleet today have proved to be great assets to the Naval Service, offering flexibility and value for money in a variety of roles. Here we look at these ships and their history in detail.

The requirement to replace the 6 Round Table class LSLs, starting with RFA Sir Geraint and RFA Sir Percivale led to the establishment of the Alternative Landing Ship Logistic (ALSL) project in 1997. The 1998 Defence Review committed to a balanced amphibious capability for the RN and confirmed these ships would be constructed. The ALSL had evolved into the Landing Ship Dock Auxiliary, LSD(A) by Autumn of 2002 and the specification called for a ship that could carry at least 350 troops, had 500 lane metres for vehicles and embark 70 tonnes war maintenance reserves (stores, fuel and ammunition). The ship would be able to operate helicopters and mexeflotes, while being able to offload vehicles in conditions up to Sea State 3. The Albion class LPDs would provide the amphibious spearhead and command and control while the Bay class would back it up carrying a larger number of troops, vehicles and stores that will sustain the assault.

The MoD issued an invitation to tender for design and build of 2 ships with an option for a further 3 in 2000. A life major life extension refit of RFA Sir Bedevire had proved expensive and it was decided new ships would be more cost effective. On 26 October 2000 the MoD announced Swan Hunter on Tyneside had won the lead yard contract and would construct 2 ships, with a further 2 built by BAE Systems in Glasgow. The projected cost was around £300 million for the four vessels, all expected to be in service by the end of 2005. Swan Hunter planned to adapt the Dutch Royal Schelde Enforcer design used as the basis for HNMLS Rotterdam and the Spanish SPS Galicia, both commissioned in 1998. It should be noted that the design selected exceeded the original ALSL specifications by a considerable margin, in particular, the inclusion of the well dock which is still of great benefit today.

  • An ageing RFA Sir Percivale offloads Mexflote off Gosport after 13 months of operations in the Middle East in 2002. The Bay class are replacements for the 6 Round Table class LSLs (Landing Ship Logistic) originally completed between 1967-68

  • HNMLS Rotterdam based on the Enforcer design developed by Royal Schelde in the Netherlands and used as the basis for the Bay Class.

  • RFA Largs Bay being constructed at Swan Hunter, seen being assembled in the floating dock, March 2003.

  • RFA Mounts Bay

    RFA Mounts Bay under construction in Govan, August 2003. (Photo: Stuart Cameron)

  • The old and the new – RFA Sir Percivale and her replacement, RFA Largs Bay on Tyneside, August 2003.

  • RFA Largs Bay, fitting out at Swan Hunter, Wallsend.

  • RFA Cardigan Bay, just after her launch at BAE Systems Govan yard in Glasgow, April 2005.

An unhappy genesis

By 2000 Swan Hunter was a shadow of its former self, having gone through upheavals and buy-outs with very different management since it completed it last warship, HMS Richmond in 1993. A famous brand with a fine warship construction pedigree, SH was one of the casualties of ever-declining warship orders and the inability of British yards to compete for commercial shipbuilding. It had limped on in reduced form, surviving on work from the offshore energy industry. When bidding for the LSD(A) contract, SH significantly under-estimated both the work to adapt the Enforcer design to UK requirements, and the complexity of construction. The low cost and the attraction of creating 1,000 new jobs on Tyneside undoubtedly encouraged the MoD to enter into this conspiracy of optimism.

Delays in receiving design details from Royal Schelde meant work the first ship RFA Largs Bay started almost a year late. The first of 32 blocks that would make up Largs Bay were placed in the floating dock used for assembly in May 2002. Progress on outfitting was slower and more challenging than expected and by September 2003 the MoD effectively had to absorb liability for rising costs with an £84M bale-out of SH. As SH was lead yard, the problems had a knock-on effect, causing delays and cost increases to the construction of Mounts Bay and Cardigan Bay in Glasgow, with increasing tension between the two companies. RFA Mounts Bay was launched down a traditional slipway Govan on 9 April 2004 but received minor damage after becoming entangled in chains, hit the opposite bank of the river and a dock worker was injured while she was being secured alongside.

In November 2004 two of Largs Bay’s engines were accidentally filled with sea water and in June 2005 a crankshaft was written off during engine trials. Swan Hunter announced that after testing that both Largs Bay and Lyme Bay would need a further £20M spent on them to rectify construction errors. The MoD eventually transferred lead yard responsibility to BAE Systems and RFA Mounts Bay performed many of the lead ship functions, such as speed trials. The contract with SH was terminated entirely in 2006 and the unfinished RFA Lyme Bay was towed to Glasgow for completion. This marked the sorry end to a fine shipbuilder and foreseeable problems that cost the taxpayer at least £200 million beyond the original budget. The construction phase concluded in July 2007, when the last ship, RFA Lyme Bay was delivered to the MoD 18 months behind schedule.

General characteristics

At 16,190 tonnes, the Bay class are more than double the size of the Sir class LSLs they replaced. They have diesel-electric propulsion driving 2 azimuthing thruster pods. The pods are rotated to provide steering as well as thrust so the ships do not need rudders. Together with a bow thruster, a dynamic positioning system can hold the ship precisely in place, especially useful for mexefloat and small boat operations at sea. Electrical power for the thrusters is generated by 2 x Wärtsilä 8L26 (2.2 MW) and 2 x Wärtsilä 12V26 (3.3 MW) diesel generator sets. Maximum speed is a respectable 18 knots, with a range of 8,000 miles at 15 knots.

Standard RFA crew compliment is just 59 with accommodation for up to 75 to allow for additional RN personnel or trainees. There is good accommodation for an Embarked Military Force of 356 fully equipped combat troops, this can be increased to 500, using camp beds in spare compartments. Up to 700 could be carried for short periods in war “overload” conditions. The ship has been designed with wide passageways to allow fully equipped troops to reach disembarkation areas quickly and has an airtight NBCD citadel, usually found on warships. There are about 1,200 line-metres available on the vehicle deck with a theoretical load of up to 24 Challenger tanks and 150 trucks. Vehicles can be embarked through door in the starboard side and there is a lift to transport vehicles or stores between the vehicle deck and upper deck. There is also space on the upper deck for either 12 x 40-TEU or 24 x 24-TEU containers. Two 30-tonne upper deck cranes are used for cargo handling and to load LCVPs and boats on or off the upper deck. The floodable well dock has space for either 2 Landing Craft Vehicle and Personnel (LCVP) or 1 Landing Craft Utility (LCU). Two large Mexeflotes (powered rafts) can be carried, strapped to the port and starboard side of the ship.

  • An empty vehicle deck gives a good sense of the ship’s considerable capacity.

  • Without a permanent hangar, a temporary fabric aircraft shelter is usually carried by the Bay class vessels.

  • Medical facility.

  • Gymnasium.

  • The Embarked Military Force (EMF) accommodation is deep in the ship below the vehicle deck. (Photos via Seb Haggart)

  • Rates Dining hall.

  • Chartroom behind the bridge.

  • The captain on the bridge of RFA Mounts Bay

  • A US Navy Riverine Command Boat (RCB) enters the well dock of RFA Cardigan Bay during joint operations in the Gulf.


Despite the troubled build project, the lead ship RFA Mounts Bay was accepted off-contract in late 2005 and began extensive trials, culminating in mid-2006 with a successful amphibious capability demonstration involving landing Challenger Tanks, Royal Marines and helicopter operations. The original design has proved sound, although some minor modifications or additions have been made during the decade or so they have been in service. A weakness of the Bay class is the lack of permanent aircraft hangar but in 2008 Rubb UK was contracted to design and fit the first temporary aircraft shelter to RFA Cardigan Bay. All four ships have been subsequently been fitted with this 15m x 18m steel-framed and fabric-covered structure that offers some protection from the elements for aircraft, boats, stores and personnel (not always fitted).

The original design included two small funnels at the aft end of the ship with the exhaust in long horizontal ducts running almost half the length of the ship. This arrangement did not prove satisfactory as fumes could envelop the upper deck and interfere with flight operations in some circumstances. To rectify this, tall exhaust funnels have been fitted on the upper deck amidships, almost directly above the diesel engines below.

Ships deploying to higher threat regions have been fitted with two 20mm Phalanx CIWS and two DS30B 30mm cannons. Initially, the Phalanx units were bolted to the upper deck amidships, port and starboard. For her service in the Gulf in 2016 Lyme Bay was fitted with Phalanx in a fore and aft arrangement as the original design intended, one placed on the foredeck mount and one on the aft superstructure. This offers better arcs of fire and less clutter on upper deck area.

  • RFA Mounts Bay deployed in her intended primary amphibious role. Exercise Armatura Borealis in Norway, March 2008.

  • Mothership to minehunters – RFA Cardigan Bay with HMS Ramsey, Quorn and Shoreham escorted by HMS Diamond, Arabian Gulf, August 2012.

  • RFA Largs Bay crosses the Atlantic with stores for the Haiti earthquake relief operation, Feb 2010.

  • Vehicle deck full of Land Rovers donated by the UK for Haiti earthquake relief operations.

  • Royal Marine vehicles offloaded onto Mexeflote from RFA Mounts Bay, Exercise Corsican Lion, 2011.

  • Royal Marines embark in RFA Cardigan Bay at Marchwood, prior to the Cougar 2011 deployment.

  • RFA Mounts Bay docked down during post-hurricane Irma relief operations in the Caribbean, 2017.

  • RFA Mounts Bay alongside in Portland, used as accommodation ship and base for small boats during security operations around the Olympics sailing events in 2012.

Largs Bay sold

The ill-conceived and brutal round of cuts to the Navy in the 2010 SDSR resulted in the sale of RFA Largs Bay. Brazil, Chile and India were all potential buyers but she was sold to Australia in March 2011. After a refit and training period for the new crew in Falmouth, the ship recommissioned as HMAS Choules in Sydney in December 2011. Unexpected defects with voltage converters kept the ship out of service until April 2013 but she has since served the Australian navy well as part of a programme to substantially enhance their amphibious capability. Considering the sale raised just £65M for the UK Treasury and the approximate operating cost of a Bay class is under £10M per annum, the loss of such a useful ship is a continuing source of regret, a triumph of fiscal short-termism over common sense.

Our flexible friends

In service the Bay class have proven to have the capacity and capability to take on a wide range of tasks. They are the hardest working ships of the RFA flotilla and there is no doubt we could use more vessels of this type. A detailed history of each vessel can be found here but a few important highlights of their diverse work in the last decade include;

In 2006 RFA Mounts Bay participated in Operation Vela – the largest deployment of amphibious vehicles by the UK since 2001 and aimed at demonstrating the ability of the UK to conduct coastal and amphibious operations in the unique environments of West Africa. The Bay class vessels have participated in most of the annual Cougar/JEFM deployments (2011-2016) and occasionally in the Joint warrior exercise series, proving their amphibious capabilities.

While conducting her first Caribbean deployment (APT(N)), in December 2007 RFA Largs Bay intercepted a boat carrying 1.125 tons of cocaine worth £45 million. In February 2008 RFA Lyme Bay was sent to Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic for Operation Zest – emergency repairs to Calshot Harbour, critical to the Island’s ability to land supplies. Lyme Bay landed construction materials, equipment and personnel who were able to re-open the harbour.

In March 2016 RFA Mounts Bay was assigned to Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) in response to the migrant crisis in the Aegean Sea where she patrolled off the island of Lesbos, escorting over 350 migrants to safety. In June 2016 she was reassigned to Operation Sophia, tracking human and arms smugglers operating off Libya. The ship had effectively demonstrated a Bay class could also be used for patrol and maritime security tasks.

In the wake of a major earthquake in 2010, RFA Largs Bay was hurriedly loaded and despatched with relief supplies. Working under the auspices of the World Food Programme, using Mexefloats she delivered food and vehicles across beaches to the populations of Haiti’s Southern Peninsula that were cut off from supply by road. In August 2015 RFA Lyme Bay was sent to Dominica to provide assistance in the wake of Tropical Storm Erika which caused widespread damage. The ship provided 7,170 hot meals, 78,000 litres of water, 20 tonnes of dry provisions and treated 35 medical cases. She provided similar help in October 2015 when a hurricane hit the Bahamas. The immense work of RFA Mounts Bay in the wake of Hurricane Irma in 2017 is covered here.

  • HMAS Choules conducts humanitarian aid exercise Croix du Sud with French forces in New Caledonia, May 2018. Note she retains the original aft funnel configuration. (Photo: RAN)

  • The two steerable azimuth thrusters clearly visible before the launch of RFA Mounts Bay, April 2004. The pods have been turned to face forward for the launch. (Photo: Stuart Cameron)

  • Merlin Mk3 helicopter deck landing trials on RFA Lyme Bay, 2015.

  • Scan Eagle UAV leased to the Royal Navy, trialled aboard RFA Cardigan Bay in the Gulf, Jan 2014.

  • US Navy helicopter embarked aboard RFA Lyme Bay during US-UK Mine Countermeasures exercises in the Arabian Gulf, April 2016. (Photo: US Navy)

  • US Navy operating minehunting UUVs from RFA Lyme Bay in the Arabian Gulf, Aug 2016. (Photo: US Navy)

  • Sailors from US Navy Helicopter Mine Counter Measures Squadron (HM) 15 help pull in a MK-105 Mod 4 Sled, used for mine countermeasures, into the well deck of RFA Lyme Bay, Nov 2009. (Photo: US Navy)

  • RAF Sea King Search and Rescue helicopter landing on RFA Largs Bay in the Falkland Islands in 2009.

  • Offshore Raiding Craft and LCACs from 539 Assault Squadron, Royal Marines loaded onto RFA Lyme Bay in Devonport prior to Exercise Joint Warrior April 2018. Note the deck shelter not fitted.

Current operations

RFA Mounts Bay has been in the Caribbean since June 2017 and played a major role in relief operations after hurricane Irma. She conducted a maintenance period at Detyen Shipyards, Charleston, South Carolina with help from A&P Group engineers in May 2018. She is now back in the Caribbean and prepared to provide assistance, should she be required during this year’s hurricane season. She will stay in the region well into 2019, the longest ever sustained deployment of either a warship or RFA on this task. (RFA crews rotate with personnel typically serving for approximately 4 months at sea, followed by 3 months off).

Based in Bahrain, a Bay class vessel is permanently deployed in the Gulf for extended periods, serving as the mothership to the RN and US mine countermeasures vessels. RFA Cardigan Bay replaced RFA Lyme Bay in this role in mid-2017. Lyme Bay’s medical facilities were tested with simulated casualties and surgeries during a 7-day US-UK exercise Azraq Serpent in January 2018. In June 2018 she participated in one of the frequent US-UK Mine Countermeasures Exercises (MCMEX) which enhance cooperation, mutual mine countermeasure capabilities and interoperability.

RFA Lyme Bay completed a major refit at A&P Falmouth in March 2018 and exercised her amphibious role during Joint Warrior in April. Lyme Bay is completing another maintenance period in Falmouth and being fitted out for operations in the Gulf. In the Autumn, she is expected to participate in the tri-service exercise Saif Sareea 3 off Oman, the largest UK training activity in the Gulf region for 17 years which will involve Army Challenger 2 main battle tanks and Warrior infantry fighting vehicles.

A bright future

When permanently deployed in the Gulf the ships have not only excelled as motherships for the MCMVs, but also hosted small boats and unmanned vehicles. UUVs involved in mine warfare operate from the well dock and surveillance UAVs have been launched from the flight deck. There is a growing school of thought that suggests relatively cheap motherships hosting sophisticated unmanned systems could be force multipliers and play a significant role in future naval combat. The Bay class are in pole position to develop and expand this concept for the RN.

The Bay class design also has the potential to be the basis for a dedicated aid ship, a hospital ship or a Joint Casualty Treatment Ship (JCT). In 2001 the MoD actually began the Assessment phase for two JCT ships, slated to enter service by 2012. In desperate straits and looking for further work in 2005, Swan Hunter proposed that they convert the completed RFA Lyme Bay into a JCT but the MoD had already abandoned the project, accepting RFA Argus will have to soldier on until 2024.

With two of the there vessels almost permanently “forward-deployed” to the Gulf and the Caribbean it effectively leaves just one vessel available for amphibious work. To some extent, they have been a victim of their own success because of their ability to excel in a variety of roles. The RN’s amphibious lift which looked so healthy in the 1998 plans has now been reduced to a single LPD and a single Bay class (with a QEC carrier able to offer a part-time LPH capability from around 2023). Although a very faint hope, the aspiration to procure another 2 or 3 similar ships would be a very cheap way to help re-invigorate amphibious capability.


All three ships have recently joined Twitter and you can follow them at @RFACardiganBay / @RFAMountsBay / @RFALymeBay



from Save the Royal Navy

Monday, 9 July 2018

First trials of F-35 aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth begin this autumn

In late August HMS Queen Elizabeth will leave Portsmouth for her Westlant 18 trip. The ship will be away for around four months and, although not an operational deployment, this will be her longest and most demanding period at sea so far. The centrepiece of the deployment will be the fixed-wing First of Class Trials (FOCT) with F-35Bs touching down on her deck for the first time. In this article we look at the preparation and plans for the flying trials.

From simulator to real world

Since 2007 a great deal of work has been done in the F-35 QEC integration facility at BAE Systems at Warton. This £multi-million investment includes an F-35 cockpit and a simulator replicating the Flying Control (Flyco) office in the after island of the QEC. Using these tools it been possible to test the behaviour of the aircraft and how it interacts with the aviation systems fitted to the ship, and make changes to design where required.

The Landing Signals Officer (LSO) provides advice to the pilot to assist with safe recovery to the ship. In the simulators, the pilots and LSOs have been able to build up experience and develop the operating procedures for managing F-35B launch and recovery from the ship.

Advances in computing power and the sophistication and accuracy of modelling and simulations have helped to mitigate much of the risk involved with integrating a new aircraft with a new ship. The QEC were designed to operate the F-35 from the outset, her spacious decks and the experiences of the USMC, already operating the F-35B at sea, give every reason for confidence the flight trials will be successful.

Flyco and the LSO workstation, part of the F-35 QEC integration simulator at BAE Systems facility at Warton, Lancashire. (Photo: BAE Systems)

The F-35B cockpit simulator at Warton, part of the most sophisticated flight simulator BAES has ever built. (Photo: BAE Systems)

Preparing for carrier aviation without carriers

Despite the loss of the RN’s aircraft carriers in 2010, unique carrier aviation and combat flying skills have been successfully kept alive by a careful strategy developed by the Fleet Air Arm. Adding to the legacy experience flying the Sea Harrier and Harrier GR7/9, selected RN pilots have served in the US Marine Corps flying the AV-8B Harrier and in the US Navy flying F/A-18 Super Hornet. This means today there are about 60 qualified RN fast jet pilots, with about 20 other pilots at various stages in the training pipeline. The RN currently has 8 fully trained F-35 pilots and the RAF will have 18 by the end of this year. Although based at RAF Marham and 617 being an RAF-badged squadron, the UK Lightning Force is a truly joint effort. An RN pilot slated to become CO of 617 shortly which will has a total strength of 14 pilots. Of these, 2 RN and 2 RAF pilots are ab initio, the F-35 is the first frontline aircraft they have trained on.

During QE’s last brief period at sea, Hawks of 736 Naval Air Squadron, played the part of F-35s so that the flight controllers onboard could rehearse procedures for managing aircraft approaching the ship. Aircraft handlers have been practising their role using full-size dummy F-35 models aircraft at RNAS Culdrose. These and every other possible preparation has been conducted on both the naval and aviation sides ahead of the real thing, using a variety of simulations and synthetic training aids.

Land-based development testing

The first fixed-wing aircraft to land on HMS Queen Elizabeth will be from the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Integrated Test Force (ITF) based at the US Navy’s Paxutent River flight test centre in Maryland. Development of the Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STVOL) aspects of the F-35B has utilised the specialised Centerfield STOVL facility at Pax River which includes a Ski Jump, a grated Hover Pit and an AM-2 Expeditionary Airfield (used by the USMC to create austere landing strips). Three British pilots are assigned to the ITF and have been preparing for the QEC FOCT for the last four years. A programme of successful ski-ramp launches has been conducted, including in substantial crosswinds and carrying full asymmetric loads. Results from the land-based test programme have reduced the risks and will speed up the ship-board testing process.

Work undertaken by the ITF is about defining the F-35’s handling qualities and the safe operating envelope. This is quite separate from the three aircraft of the RAF’s 17(R) Squadron Operational Evaluation Unit (OEU) based at Edwards AFB. They are part of the international F-35 Joint Operational Test Team (JOTT) focussed on weapons, combat tactics and operational considerations.

The ski ramp at Pax River, built in 2009 is a replica of the 45m, 12º Invincible class ramp. The ramp fitted to the QEC is slightly different, angled at 12.5º and 60m in length.

Big decks, fast jets (at last)

The first jets to land on the ship will be conducting Development Testing in two 3-4 week phases (DT-1 and DT-2), with a break from the intense flying schedule in the middle. Four pilots will be assigned to fly two “orange-wired” F-35B ITF aircraft for the FOCT programme. These test aircraft are technically US-owned jets but the pilots will be British. During the trials, both aircraft will send data for analysis to QE which will be temporarily fitted with a telemetry system. Initial flying will be conducted in very benign conditions but as the trials progress, the ship can seek more challenging weather as she cruises up or down the Eastern seaboard of the US. Simulator models can only be trusted to a point so the programme must proceed with caution, starting at the safest centre of the flight envelope and moving outward. There are multiple test points to be worked through with variables such as wind conditions, sea state and aircraft loading.

DT-1 will involve the pilots getting acquainted with the ship and carrier qualified. Initially daytime, dry deck vertical landings and ski-jump take-offs will be tested, then moving on to night flying and wet deck conditions. For vertical landings, the pilots are assisted by advice from the LSO and visual cues from the Glideslope and long-range line-up indicator system (GILS). Two Advanced Stabilised Glide Slope Indicators (ASGSI) project a vertically colour-coded beam which can be seen between 2 – 5nm away by the pilot, depending on conditions. An additional visual aid for a vertical recovery is the Hihat which consists of 11 lights fitted in a vertical stack with two lights mounted horizontally, one either side at the correct aircraft hover height. This is mounted on the port quarter of the forward island as helps the pilot gauge height over the deck when in the hover.

The ASGSI installed on the port catwalk of QE (shielded to protect it from the effects of jet blast). It projects a beam of light, with coloured sectors, stabilised to remove the effects of the ship’s roll and pitch, indicating to the pilot if his approach is above, below or on the correct glide path.

Vertical landing at sea is now routine for USMC F-35Bs operating from their LHD/LHA assault ships. The automation of the F-35B’s flight controls make vertical landing a relatively simple affair compared to the very demanding workload placed on a Harrier pilot. As the QEC have a much larger flight deck and suffer less wind turbulence (because the island is further away from the landing spot), very little presumed risk is attached to this phase of flight testing.

Assuming the first phase goes well, DT-2 will involve more challenging sea states and the aircraft carrying dummy stores in various configurations. The Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) technique will also be tried for the first time. This allows the aircraft to return to the ship at heavier weights carrying unused munitions or fuel. SRVL also reduces wear on the lift fan and heat impacts on the flight deck compared with vertical landing. SRVL requires flying a very precise approach profile with the aircraft touching down with around 60 Knots of forward speed so the wings are still generating part of the lift. Land too fast and the aircraft will run out of flight deck and have to take off again using precious fuel. Approach too slowly and the aircraft will descend too quickly, potentially hitting the stern of the ship or crashing on deck. This battle with the laws of physics has been managed successfully many times in the simulator but there are still some unknowns about performing this procedure on a moving deck at sea, which has important operational implications for carrier strike capability.

This year’s FOCT programme will define the safe operating clearances for the F-35 but a third development testing period (DT-3) is planned for mid-2019, as HMS Queen Elizabeth moves closer towards her first operational deployment in 2021. We will examine the other non-aviation aspects of the Westlant 18 deployment in another article to follow next month.



from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Positive signs for Royal Navy Submarine manpower

This week the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee was examining the Submarine Nuclear Enterprise. The session primarily dealt with finance and planning for the Dreadnought programme but the Second Sea Lord, Vice Admiral Tony Radakin also gave evidence about submarine manning issues. Lack of suitably experienced and qualified manpower for the submarine service has been a problem for almost a decade but there are some signs of improvement.

The Submarine Service currently comprises 830 officers and 3,150 ratings but the PAC report states that in May 2018 the RN is still 337 submariners below requirement – more than 8% understrength. This reflects a service still in recovery from the peak of the manning crisis which occurred between 2012-15. Although a slow process, the RN has taken big steps in the last 3 years to improve the situation. Some measures were aimed at addressing morale issues while other efforts were directed at boosting recruitment.

In recovery

A dedicated submarine recruitment team has been set up and schemes to attract more graduates and apprenticeships have been established to develop more nuclear marine engineers. Around 100 technical personnel were recruited last year with a similar number expected to join this year. The complexity of nuclear boats demands that almost half of RN submariners are assigned to engineering branches – 430 Officers and 2,100 ratings. Much of the future success of the service depends on recruiting and retaining is these technically qualified people. Efforts have also been made to move people through the training pipeline faster, for example, typically a submarine watch-leader engineer Petty Officer (PO) used to take up to 12 yrs to fully qualify but this has now been reduced to 5 years.

Personnel in the surface fleet have been offered incentives or service extensions if they agree to transfer and greater use of reserves have been made in trades where there were particular shortages. Financial incentives have been expanded beyond just nuclear specialists which has aided retention. Over 50% of senior rates are now signing on for further service beyond their pension points, many attracted by the financial packages on offer. Admiral Radakin also feels that the submarine community as a whole is in a better place, results from the Armed forces Continuous Attitude Survey (AFCAS) show that 60% would now say they are proud to serve and 50% would recommend it to others as a career.

Ultimately the RN plans to have a complete spare crew available to provide greater resilience and reduce the pressure on personnel. This is a sensible aspiration although probably some way off, given the current shortages.

For the next few decades, there is little prospect of the RN being able to expand the number of its attack boats beyond 6 or 7. Maximising the use of existing assets is therefore particularly important, even a modest surplus of additional people would add greater flexibility and increase the time boats can be deployed.

It would be disingenuous not to accept there have been some problems for which submariners themselves must take responsibility. An affair between the CO of HMS Vigilant and a junior female officer together with the expulsion of 9 personnel found to have taken recreational drugs in October 2017 was not the navy’s finest hour. The mis-steps of a tiny minority grabbed the headlines but are the exception and should not overshadow the very high standards of the majority.

Making Faslane home

The decision to consolidate all submarine basing and training on the Clyde was not universally popular but there are signs that this has been accepted. 84% of submariners are now based in Scotland and it is becoming less of a cause for complaint. From 2020 all RN submarines will be based in Faslane, with much of the maintenance taking place alongside or in the shiplift. Boats will only go to Devonport for Long Overhaul Period and Refuel (LOP(R)), which for the most part only requires small numbers of naval personnel.

Of all the RN’s shore establishments, Faslane has benefited from the longest and most sustained period of investment. There is little that can be done about the weather but the Single Living Accommodation has recently been further upgraded and other facilities are continually being improved. Family concerns have been given greater priority and there has been an effort to better integrate with the local Helensburgh community.

Russians keep people interested

The operational tempo is officially and obliquely described as “busy”, primarily due to increased Russian submarine activity. Although creating greater pressure on the RN as whole, for those on the frontline it does at least make for much more challenging and professionally rewarding patrols than was the case a few years ago. An improving level of morale amongst submariners is demonstrated by the service now having the lowest level of outflow (resignations) in the RN with just 2% of officers and 4% of ratings leaving each year.

There is still work to be done and some way to go before the submarine manning situation can again be described as “normal” but there are many positive signs that good progress is being made.

The Second Sea Lord giving evidence about submarine manpower to the Public Accounts Committee, July 3 2018.

from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

New engines for the Royal Navy’s Type 23 Frigates

Originally designed with a service life of around 18 years, the RN’s Type 23 Frigates will now have to serve for around 30 years. All 13 frigates are undergoing life extension (LIFEX) refits and an important component of these upgrades is the Power Generation Machinery Upgrade (PGMU) to replace the ships’ four diesel generator sets.

The Type 23 LIFEX programme is being run by the Surface Ship Support Alliance (a partnership between the MoD, Babcock and BAE Systems) and began in June 2015 when HMS Argyll was taken in hand at Devonport. At the time of writing HMS Argyll, Westminster, Montrose, Northumberland and Kent have all completed LIFEX refits. The most obvious external change is the fitting of the CAAM Sea Ceptor missile system to replace the ageing GWS-26 Sea Wolf but the refits also include major changes to equipment, the combat system, chilled water arrangements and work to extend the life of the hull and superstructure. Unfortunately, the first ships to undergo LIFEX have not received new engines and will have to wait until their next major refit. HMS Richmond will be the first ship to receive the machinery upgrade and is currently mid-way through her refit in Devonport. Work has also started on the LIFEX of HMS Portland and HMS Lancaster at Devonport. The LIFEX refit of each Type 23 is costing at least £35M per ship, not including the PGMU. Totalling around £600M for this work across the frigate fleet, this is a very necessary and worthwhile investment but could have been much reduced if the Type 26 frigates had been ordered earlier.

The oldest Type 23s HMS Argyll and HMS Lancaster will never receive the PGMU. Assuming they survive future defence cuts, they will have to soldier on with their Paxman diesels until they go out of service in 2023 and 2024 respectively. The project is set to be completed by 2024 when last of the other 11 ships receives its new engines.

The MTU 20V-4000 M53B Diesel Engine (Photo: Rolls Royce)

The first of the new MTU 12V 4000 M53B diesel generator sets were delivered to Devonport Naval Base in late 2016 for fitting to HMS Richmond. The new gensets are manufactured in Germany by MTU (A subsidiary of the Land & Sea division of Rolls-Royce) and provide 1.65MW each. This will provide the ship with approximately 20% increase in available power for onboard weapons, sensors and electronics as well as for cruising propulsion. The old Paxman Valenta 12 RP2000CZ diesel design dates from the 1960s and are becoming increasingly maintenance-intensive. They are rated at 1.3MW but and have reduced power output as low as 1MW in hot climates. The new diesels perform better in hot conditions and will drastically reduce maintenance time and running cost. The MTU 4000 gensets include sophisticated noise reduction and shock resistance measures and are exceptionally reliable. The PGMU project presented a considerable engineering challenge as new equipment had to fit within the existing structural and compartment constraints and integrate with the ship’s services and systems.

The PGMU project comprises 5 separate components (which the DE&S tendered for in ‘lots’); diesel generators, power conversion equipment, electrical switchboards, the machinery control and surveillance system (MCAS) and the integration work. A £68M contract was signed by the DE&S with MTU to supply the 48 generator sets in April 2015. The contract includes a complete logistics package, spare parts and initial training. The RN’s mechanical engineering training establishment, HMS Sultan will receive equipment and electronic manuals so it can provide relevant training for MEs serving on the upgraded Type 23s.

Hitzinger UK won a £12M contract for the voltage converters and Rolls-Royce signed a £18M contract in January 2016 to deliver the updated MCAS. Babcock Marine and Technology is responsible for the integration of the new systems aboard the ships and was awarded a £3.6M for this task. The project includes installing 600m of new pipework in each ship together with over 8km of new cable. The Upper Auxiliary Machinery Room (UAMR) and the Forward Auxiliary Machinery Rooms (FAMR) have to be almost entirely stripped out and new machinery foundations and uptakes and downtakes fitted.

The MTU 4000 gensets have specialist mounting and are surrounded by an acoustic enclosure, ensuring low radiated noise levels, critical to anti-submarine warfare. (Photo: Rolls Royce)

The new propulsion package fitted to the Type 23s will not only improve ship availability, fuel efficiency and available power but will provide useful experience for the RN as similar MTU gensets are being fitted the future Type 26 frigates. Although the Type 26 is an evolution of the Type 23’s propulsion system there are significant differences. Type 23 utilised a CODLAG arrangement – Combined Diesel Electrical AND Gas Turbine. Both the gensets driving the motors and both Spey Gas Turbines are required to be online to achieve full speed. The Type 26 is CODELOG Combined Diesel-Electric OR Gas Turbine. The single MT-30 gas turbine alone is sufficient to drive the ship at full speed without the need for the motors, and in that mode the gensets can provide power purely for the ships electrical needs.

Although the Type 23’s legacy Spey gas turbines do not, the new MTU propulsion system meets the requirements of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) III emissions directive. Meeting civilian emissions standards is challenging for the unique requirements of naval vessels but it is obviously desirable to maximise fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. The RN has utilised various new hydrodynamic features to minimise drag on its ship hulls. These have been incorporated at the design stage of the modern vessels Type 45, the aircraft carriers and the Type 26 but the older Type 23s have undergone some modifications in service including self-polishing anti-fouling coatings on the hull and propeller blades, stern wedges, and improved propeller designs. The intention is that the Type 26 frigates will be fully compliant with IMO’s MARPOL (Nitrogen oxides) NOx regulations and will be fitted with a Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system together with the efficient MTU4000 20V diesel generators and MT-30 Gas Turbines.

HMS Montrose in the final stages of her LIFEX (May 2017) in Devonport. Babcock’s Frigate Refit Complex comprises 3 covered dry docks and is being heavily utilised for the LIFEX programme. The future Type 26 frigates will not fit inside this facility, although the Type 31 designs probably can be accommodated.




from Save the Royal Navy

Friday, 22 June 2018

Video & photo essay: HMS Queen Elizabeth conducts first replenishment at sea

HMS Queen Elizabeth conducted her first Replenishment at Sea (RAS) with RFA Tidespring this week. While the main purpose of her current deployment is to conduct helicopter flight trials in the Eastern Atlantic, the opportunity was taken to prove her RAS capability.

A first replenishment at sea for QE with RFA Tidespring was planned to take place February. The two ships came together but no lines were passed because in the rough weather it was not worth taking risks for a trial that could be postponed until a better opportunity was available.

HMS Queen Elizabeth sailed from Portsmouth on 10th June so had only been at sea for 11 days, assuming she sailed with full fuel tanks, she did not actually need to conduct RAS. For the purposes of the trial, just 200 tonnes of F76 marine diesel oil was transferred from RFA Tidespring.

Both port and starboard fuelling stations on the carrier were tested.

RFA Tidespring was designed from the outset to provide fuel to the QEC aircraft carriers

To conduct the RAS, the two ships steam at 12 knots, around 42 metres apart.

If needed, the Tide class tankers can deliver 800 cubic metres of fuel per hour

Of the four Tide class tankers, RFA Tidespring is fully operational while RFA Tiderace is on the verge of entering service. RFA Tidesurge is being fitted out in Falmouth and RAF Tideforce will soon be delivered from her builders in South Korea.




from Save the Royal Navy

Thursday, 21 June 2018

One step forward, two steps back – delivering the Royal Navy’s new OPVs

As we reported in April, significant defects have been found aboard HMS Forth which was delivered to the RN in February. Initial assessments were that the problems would be remedied in a couple of weeks but this has not proved to be the case.

HMS Forth’s defects list has not expanded beyond what was originally reported; sheared bolt heads, failed marine fixings and the electrical system. However, the investigation and agreeing on the rectifications by all parties took much longer to complete than initially expected.

The ship has not been “handed back” to BAE Systems and remains a commissioned RN warship. However, that is really a technicality because, as is standard practice during deep maintenance, the contractor has taken over over care and protection of the vessel with no RN personnel living on board. After the delay caused by the investigation and scoping, there are now are teams of contractors working on board the ship to correct the problems. HMS Forth will definitely not require dry-docking for this work as the issues are all internal and not related to propulsion, steering or the hull. The date the work will be completed is unknown at this stage but sources can only say “well before the end of this year”. The ship is effectively under warranty and BAES are meeting all costs for this work.

HMS Forth is due to replace HMS Clyde as the Falkland Patrol ship. The delays to HMS Forth commencing work up and FOST will have the knock-on effect of extending HMS Clyde’s time in service. The RN is down to just one active OPV in UK waters right now and there is some speculation HMS Tyne could be re-activated. The RN is performing a delicate juggling act rotating crews between OPVs and MCMVs under Project Jicara. HMS Tyne’s crew joined HMS Forth in March 2017 and she was then manned until decommissioning by a crew loaned from the 2nd Minehunting Squadron. They then moved to HMS Mersey so her crew could join HMS Trent in build in Glasgow. There is no spare crew available for HMS Tyne so it is unlikely the RN will reactivate her in the near future.

HMS Tyne was formally decommissioned on 24 May and, along with HMS Severn already decommissioned, and HMS Mersey, due to decommission in 2019, will be preserved alongside. This has been funded by a £12.7M allocation from the EU Exit Preparedness Fund, should the ships be required to patrol UK waters following Brexit. Unfortunately, the RN does not have the people to crew these vessels while at the same time providing manpower for the new Batch IIs. Reactivating the Batch Is would require innovative alternative manning arrangements.

BAE Systems has sensibly initiated inspections of the next 2 OPVs, Medway and Trent, currently under construction to ensure these issues are dealt with before the ships are handed over to the RN. This inspection is ongoing and rectifications being completed where necessary. So far only one sheared and glued bolt head has been discovered on Medway. Medway was named two months earlier in her schedule than Forth so their schedules do not compare. Medway is due to go on sea trials later this summer and the MOD and working with BAES to agree on the schedule for the remaining ships to come into service.

The RN’s relationship with BAE Sytems, its monopoly warship supplier is akin to an arranged and essentially loveless marriage. With absolutely no prospect of divorce, there is little choice but to live with reduced expectations and make the best of the situation, focusing on the positive aspects. (Some serious flirting with Babcock has not yet developed into a full-blown affair.) BAES have been embarrassed by this episode, the OPVs are, after all, relatively simple vessels and have proved a very expensive way of sustaining Clyde shipbuilding. The company has taken it very seriously and is working very hard to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

More positive news is the very strong indications that the BAES Type 26 (GCS-A) design is going to win the SEA5000 Australian frigate competition, an announcement is expected by the end of next week. This would be the first major UK warship export success in more than 2 decades and will be of far greater significance than relatively minor issues with the OPVs.



from Save the Royal Navy

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Astute Class Submarine Owners Workshop Manual – Book Review

£14.69 (Hardback)

Astute Class Nuclear Submarine – Owners Workshop Manual is the third in a trio of engrossing submarine-themed books published in 2018. Using the well established Haynes technical manual format, Jonathan Gates has written a detailed and comprehensive guide that explains the design, construction and operation of the RN’s newest submarines.

Those without at least a basic understanding of submarine design will find this book a steep, if fascinating learning curve. This is many orders of complexity above the average Haynes manual that might typically describe how to service a Ford Escort and is an amusing way to frame such a subject. Of course, a complete technical manual and the blueprints for the Astute class and its equipment would be highly classified and run into thousands of pages.

This book follows on from the similar Haynes Type 45 Destroyer Manual that Gates published in 2014. In both cases, the author has done a very good job of explaining some demanding technical subjects in a way that can be understood. Lavishly illustrated with a good selection of photographs, the diagrams are consistent and easy to read throughout, this is another triumph for Haynes’ graphic designers.

Cutaway of Astute class submarine

An example of the superb anotated diagrams used throughout the book

The first chapter outlines the painful birth and beginnings of the Astute project, a victim of political, financial and corporate pressures that took many years to recover from. The next chapter describes the challenges of construction followed by a lengthy section describing the nuts and bolts anatomy of the boat and its many sub-systems. Also included is possibly the best description of the principles and components of a nuclear power and propulsion system available to the layman. The combat systems and weapons are covered in some detail with a glimpse into how the boat may conduct operations. There is also a good introduction to the basics of ocean acoustics and deep water anti-submarine warfare.

At first glance the depth of technical information is astonishing and if content with the same level of detail published in this book was posted on a website or social media, there would probably be accusations of breaching operational security or revealing state secrets. Knowing his subject so well, Gates is clearly well aware of what technical and scientific information is already in the public domain and within the classification boundaries. The book was written with assistance from BAE Systems and the MoD and care has been taken not to reveal the many deeper secrets of the Astutes. The use of broad stroke schematics and the absence of precise specifications allows the reader to understand how things work without revealing their specific performance or full capability.

The book also brings home the scale of the engineering challenge posed by nuclear submarine construction. The boat must be able to safely float, submerge, move, navigate, fight and communicate while being home to its crew for several months. To do this requires a system of systems, many with emergency backups and redundancy. All this technology must be constructed and contained within the confines of a steel tube capable of withstanding the enormous pressures experienced deep underwater. The very ambitious performance specification laid down for the Astute’s helps explain the SSN’s £1billion+ price tag and why the project has faced so many difficulties and delays.

Despite the expense and challenges of bringing these submarines into service, it has been very well worth the journey. In his closing remarks the author provides this upbeat assessment of their capability: “Studies of future operations have suggested the Astute will be able to evolve to fulfil its roles for the foreseeable future, a testament to her enduring utility and flexibility. Future strategic challenges will predicate a greater requirement for Astute’s inherent qualities known as the ‘seven deadly virtues’ – of flexibility, mobility, endurance, reach, autonomy, stealth and punch”

For anyone interested in submarines and wishing to take a deeper dive into understanding their technicalities, this book is a must-read. There is also a broader appeal beyond just the naval aspect for those who want to explore the story of a 21st Century engineering project at the cutting edge of technology.

£14.69 (Hardback)

from Save the Royal Navy