Tuesday, 31 July 2018

HMS Tyne returns to service after being paid off in May

In the recent image above HMS Tyne can be seen flying the White Ensign, with HMS Forth under repair in the background. The MoD says HMS Tyne was never formally decommissioned, although this had certainly been the plan. Instead, she held a ‘paying off’ in a ceremony on 23rd May but in an unusual turn of events, the ship is going back into service.

It is broadly good news that that HMS Mersey will be re-joined on UK waters patrols by her sister, doubling available OPV numbers from one to two. The circumstances are unusual but reflect the strange times as the UK prepares for Brexit. £12.7m of additional funding was allocated to the MoD from the Brexit Preparedness Fund specifically for the preservation of the three Batch 1 OPVs. HMS Severn remains decommissioned but the return of HMS Tyne appears to be the only available option for bolstering territorial waters protection in the short term, given manpower constraints.

HMS Tyne is now manned and being readied for sea. Her ship’s company is drawn from the Fishery Protection Squadron personnel, not from the crew awaiting repairs to HMS Forth. The reactivation of Tyne is unrelated to the issues with HMS Forth.

HMS Tyne enters Portsmouth on 21st May 2018 flying her paying off pennant.

As we reported in April, with a further updated in June, construction defects were discovered after HMS Forth commissioned and BAE Systems is working to make repairs in Portsmouth. Contrary to some rumours, she will not be towed back to her builders Glasgow. The rectification work is on track with the timescale previously agreed with the RN. Although considerably delayed, HMS Forth should relive HMS Clyde as the Falkland Islands guardship in 2019.

Sicknote: HMS Forth under repair, South West Wall, Portsmouth where she has been since commissioning in April.  (Photo: Steve Wenham, July 28 2018)

In July the CO of HMS Clyde stated in a Forces TV report that the ship expects to remain in the Falklands for another year. This is a considerable extension, as she was due to be replaced by HMS Forth in late 2018. Let us hope BAE Systems, who retain ownership and leases HMS Clyde to the RN, is underwriting the cost of extending her time in service.

HMS Clyde sails from Portsmouth for the Falklands, 20 August 2007. Since arriving in the Islands, the only time she has not been on station in the last 10 years were for two refit periods in South Africa.


from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/hms-tyne-returns-to-service-after-being-paid-off-in-may/

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Arming the fleet – the network that supplies munitions to the Royal Navy

Without munitions, the Navy would be toothless and of limited value. To fully arm the fleet requires a lengthy logistic chain of specialists and bespoke facilities. In this, the second of a 2-part article looking at naval support infrastructure, we examine the system that provides conventional munitions to the RN.

There a seven Defence Munitions (DM) sites in the UK that receive, store, maintain and issue (RSMI) general munitions (GM) and complex weapons (CW) for the UK armed forces. Six of the seven sites are either dedicated to RN needs or play a significant part in providing munitions to the fleet. Although a relatively low profile part of the defence infrastructure, the efficiency of the DM organisation has a big impact on the readiness and capability of the RN.

In broad terms, munitions arrive at the DM sites from the original manufactures and are stored in bunkers. Depending on the complexity of the weapon, they may need assembly and then regular inspections and maintenance before being prepared for issue to the fleet. From the bunker or weapons laboratory, the items are transported by road or rail to ammunitioning jetties where they are either loaded directly onto ships alongside or put on lighters to be taken out for loading onto moored warships. The munitions remain secure in specifically designed magazines onboard active warships or submarines until they are either expended in combat or training. The process is reversed for unused munitions which must be unloaded and returned to the DM stores when vessels go into maintenance or refit. The DM sites must also manage the safe disposal of obsolete and life-expired munitions.

Preparation and storage of munitions follow strict procedures and each type of weapon requires bespoke containers and cradles for transport and delivery. Modern explosives are inherently safer than those of the past with the advent of insensitive munitions which should not explode if subject to shock or fire.

Developments in solid fuel rock motors also improve their stability and extend their life but working with munitions remains potentially dangerous and must be done correctly every time. Complex weapons such as a Sea Viper round or Spearfish torpedo are bulky, highly sophisticated, expensive and must be handled with extreme care.

The distinctive cruciform-shaped Integrated Weapons Complex (IWC) buildings at DM Gosport. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

For testing complex weapons at each of the DM sites, there is at least one Integrated Weapons Complex (IWC). Laid out in a cruciform shape they have four Weapons Assembly and Check Rooms (WACR) connected to a Test Equipment House (TEH) in the centre. Several weapons at a time can be prepared in each WACR, while tests are performed in sequence from the TEH. The TEH is a reinforced concrete box, structurally separate from the WACR to reduce shock transfer. The WACR has three thick reinforced concrete walls with a lightweight roof designed to send blast upward. The IWCs have sophisticated remote monitoring linked to CCTV, intercoms and fire alarm systems. Energy supplies to the weapons under test can be quickly isolated remotely if an unsafe fault condition is detected, preventing potential detonation. Other facilities such as the Weapon Process Buildings, Ammunition Test Buildings, and Explosives Preparation Rooms are also designed with measures to mitigate the effects of any accidental explosion.

The storage and transport of munitions within the naval bases is minimised and the DM sites are deliberately situated some distance away. The volume of explosives allowed to be stored at each location at any one time is very strictly controlled by licence and the bunkers within each DM site are well separated. The sites have to be well maintained, the grass is kept cut short to minimise the spread of fire and new trees are planted regularly to help reduce blast effects.

DM Gosport and Portsmouth

DM Gosport is a large site and employs approx 270 civilian staff primarily dedicated to RSMI munitions to warships based in Portsmouth. The northern end of the site comprises 26 separate explosives storage bunkers, while the southern section (former RNAD Frater) includes 2 Integrated Weapon Complexes (IWCs) and 24 processing rooms. Gosport deals with naval CW including Sea Viper (Aster), Sea Wolf, Sea Ceptor, and the Sting Ray lightweight torpedo. Staff from the site also maintain a comprehensive ammunition supply and support service for all large (4.5”) and medium calibre guns (20/30mm) and small arms, both ashore and on board ship.

  • DM Gosport. The munitions are taken from the storage bunkers and loaded into barges at the jetty on the left and then towed down Fareham Creek to the Upper Harbour Ammunitioning Facility (UHAF) which can just be seen top right. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • DM Gosport is a large facility which covers an area of approximately 470 acres, with a frontage to Portsmouth Harbour of nearly 2.5Km. The explosives storage bunkers can be seen top right and missile laboratories lower left. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • HMS Dauntless, one of the first customers to use the UHAF, Portsmouth Harbour, 2013.

  • Sea Viper is lifted onto the UHAF from the lighter in its cradle. The cradle is laid down on the jetty and missile canister lifted out to be lowered into the vertical launch cell aboard HMS Diamond, March 2016.

  • Lighters alongside the Gosport Ammunition Jetty (Photo: Microsoft/BingMaps)

Ships requiring munitions in Portsmouth are usually ‘cold moved’ by tugs to the Upper Harbour Ammunition Facility (UHAF). Lighters bringing the weapons from DM Gosport are towed to the UHAF where they are unloaded by crane for embarking on the warship. The UHAF is a 15 x 85-metre jetty sited in the middle of the harbour to distance it from the naval base and shoreside. The £18M Jetty was completed by VolkerStevin in 2012, along with two mooring dolphins and two small vessel pontoons. It is self-supporting, having its own electrical generators and welfare facilities for the civilian staff from DM Gosport who manage ammunitioning operations. The UHAF was specifically designed to load the large Sea Viper missiles that equip the Type 45 destroyers using its 2 x 34-metre boom cranes (but is also used by other warship types).

DM Plymouth and Devonport

Warships in Devonport are supplied with munitions from DM Plymouth (formerly Royal Naval Armaments Depot Ernesettle). Although within the city of Plymouth the site is inconspicuous and many of its explosive storage bunkers are underground in the adjacent hillside. DM Plymouth covers a smaller area than Gosport and has a single IWC. Munitions can be delivered to DM Plymouth by sea, by road or by rail. DM Plymouth deals with the RSMI of a similar range of munitions to Gosport, apart from Sea Viper. The Ernesettle Jetty is used to take munitions by lighter down to ships moored in the river Tamar. Unlike Portsmouth, there is no ammunition jetty and ships loading or unloading munitions are secured to buoys in the river, just to the north of the Naval Base. Crane barges are moored alongside the ship and used to lift the munitions off the lighters.

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    HMS St Albans takes on munitions in the River Tamar, January 2009. Crane barges lift ammunition from lighters alongside.

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    HMS St Albans receives her outfit of Harpoon missiles (left) while Sea Wolf missiles are lowered into the vertical launch cell (right).

  • HMS Enterprise deammunitioning at bouy in Tamar

    Sailors from HMS Enterprise secure her to the buoy in the river Tamar ready for unloading 20mm ammunition and pyrotechnics, prior to refit, July 2018. (Photo: @HMSEnterprise)

  • Crane barge on the buoy with HMS Enterprise ready to lift ammunition into the lighter alongside, July 2018. (Photo: @HMSEnterprise)

  • RM Plymouth (formerly known as RNAD Ernesettle) with the naval base to the South. The munitions are stored in underground bunkers dug into the hillside at the centre of the image. They are transported out to ships in the river Tamar via the jetty on the right. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • The Enesettle ammunition Jetty with two new Serco crane barges alongside.  (Photo: welshwizzard19 Via Flickr)

  • An older photo showing the previous crane barges and ammunition lighters at the Ernesettle Jetty. (Photo: Microsoft/BingMaps)

The Remote Ammunitioning Facility Tamar (RAFT) project began in 2000, to provide Devonport with a dedicated ammunition jetty at Bull Point. Having spent £25M on preparation and dredging 617,000 tonnes of mud out of the river, the MoD cancelled the project in 2004. The primary purpose of RAFT was to allow nuclear submarines to embark Spearfish torpedoes and Tomahawk missiles away from the base. Revised studies assessing the risk showed the remote possibility of a weapon explosion could be safely contained on the existing wharf facilities at the base. The findings of the new study were rather convenient as the original cost of £29M had already spiralled to £45M. From 2020 submarines will no longer be based at Devonport but warships must continue to make do with munitions transfers mid-river, subject to appropriate weather conditions.

Scottish facilities

RNAD Coulport, close to Faslane naval base is primarily concerned with Trident missiles and nuclear warheads (more detail in a previous article here). The missiles are loaded into the submarine at the covered Explosives Handling Jetty but there is a second jetty used for embarking Spearfish and Tomahawks.

Hidden in the hills to the east of Loch Long is DM Glen Douglas, constructed in 1966 and covering 650 acres it employs around 120 people and is the largest weapons storage site in Western Europe. There are 56 storage bunkers built into the hillsides, and a number of weapons processing and engineering workshops. The site serves all three armed forces and has the capacity for almost 40,000 cubic metres of munitions, most of which are transported to the site by rail and sea. A new Road/Rail Transfer Point (RRTP) was completed in September 2016 and Glen Douglas maintains a fleet of lorries that travel up to 400,000 miles a year transporting munitions across the UK. Glen Douglas stores a high volume of bombs, ammunition, explosives and pyrotechnics but does not routinely deal with complex weapons. At Glen Mallen on Loch Long, there is a deepwater Jetty that can accommodate large warships and RFAs where they can load or unload munitions delivered by road from Glen Douglas. The jetty was refurbished in November 2014 and is licenced to handle up to 440 tonnes of munitions at a time.

  • HMS Ramsey at the Glen Mallen Jetty, April 2018 (Photo: J M Briscoe, via Flickr)

  • DM Glen Douglas, the new road/rail transfer point can be seen bottom left while the storage bunkers are dispersed around the hillsides. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • RFA Fort George loading ammunition at Crombie Jetty, 2008.

  • The NATO-funded 700-metre deepwater jetty at Crombie can accommodate very large vessels. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • DM Beith

    Part of the facilities at DM Beith, in an inland rural location, North Ayrshire. (Image: Google/DigitalGlobe)

  • DM Beith has the contract to store and maintain the Spearfish Torpedo. It is currently working on a complex programme upgrading the whole stock to Mod 1 standard which will not complete until 2024.

  • Spearfish being embarked aboard HMS Talent at Devonport. Note the temporary platform mounted on the casing and the cradle and pulley system used to lower the torpedo through the weapons loading hatch.

DM Crombie on the banks of the river Forth was built as a munitions site for Rosyth Dockyard during World War I. The site covers 200 acres in a narrow 2-mile long strip along the banks of the river and has underground bunkers designed to withstand a direct hit from a 1,000 lb bomb. Crombie has remained open despite the closure of Rosyth Naval Base, although staff numbers have declined to below 100. As well as general naval munitions, it is known to store explosives used for mine warfare and complex weapons for the RAF. A new 700m long jetty was built in 1989 part-funded by NATO and is licensed to handle 110 tonnes of explosives at a time. It has not been publicly confirmed, but the deepwater jetty may allow Crombie to play a role in preparing and loading the air-launched weapons for the QEC aircraft carriers.

DM Beith is an inland munitions depot about 20 miles south west of Glasgow. It was established during World War II and is sprawling site covering 1,000 acres with 21 miles of internal roads, and almost seven miles of perimeter fence. Employing more than 200 staff, the depot’s storage capacity is some 18,000 cubic metres. Its main focus is on the supply of complex weapons for all three services. Beith does not just undertake RSMI of complex weapons but is sub-contracted by BAE Systems and MBDA for assembly and manufacture work on torpedoes and missiles.


Until the dawn of internet mapping and Google Earth many of these sensitive installations were not even allowed to be marked on public maps, a policy abandoned around 2006. Today the easy availability of interactive maps, satellite images has raised awareness of the DM infrastructure. At a time of undiminishing terrorist threat, it is a concern that government has cut MoD Police numbers by 30% since 2010, without a similar sized reduction in the estate they have to guard. Automated surveillance and detection technology are improving but overall there are declining numbers of civil servant employees and fewer security personnel at most of these sites. Patrolling some of these obscure and remote sites, particularly on cold dark nights must be a dull, yet unrelenting and thankless task. The costs of the DM infrastructure are not insignificant. Typically each site has many individual buildings and structures, many need heating, lighting (often 24/7) and must be maintained to high standards and comply with modern regulation.

The investment made by a previous generation in first-class munitions facilities has left a great legacy with significant spare capacity in the system. The MoD’s track record of safe weapons handling is generally good and is controlled under a strict, safety-first regime. In wartime conditions, how well the system would cope with a large upsurge in demand is hard to say. Recruiting munitions specialists is a challenge and total civilian staff numbers are much reduced (to around 1,100), even from the period when the UK was involved in the conflicts of the early 2000s.


Main image: HMS Dragon at the UHAF, 2015 (Photo: Creature Stream via Flickr)

from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/arming-the-fleet-the-network-that-supplies-munitions-to-the-royal-navy/

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Royal Navy Type 31e Frigate programme suspension – no cause for panic

The revelation on 24th July that the Type 31e frigate programme had been abruptly halted has given rise to intense and largely inaccurate speculation about why this has happened. Further investigation strongly suggests the hold up is purely a technicality in the bidding procedure, rather than anything more serious.

Consultation with both naval and industry sources confirms that the Type 31 bidding process is likely to be restarted shortly, with the competitors asked to resubmit their tenders in a slightly different manner. To run a fair competition where margins are very tight and differentiation between the bids is small, demands a very thorough, fair and by-the-book process.

This is more a case of “computer says no” than the Chancellor says “no”.

When the news that the bidding process has been stopped became public, the Ministry of Defence stated the bald facts that there were “insufficient compliant bids for an effective and robust competition”. When asked to provide more detail, they refused, citing “Commercial sensitivity”. Unfortunately, this opaque approach has lead to open season for journalists and commentators up and down the land to indulge in all kinds of guesswork and theorising. A lack of openness and a track record of procurement failures leaves few people willing to trust the MoD anymore when they say the “process will begin again as soon as possible”, even if true.

There is no doubt the delay is unfortunate and unwelcome but there has been considerable over-reaction. Unions are calling it “a body blow to many members”. The particular political insanity surrounding Scottish shipbuilding has seen apoplectic SNP MPs calling it “utterly shocking”.

We have always maintained an open mind about the Type 31e, recognising the merits of a cheaper ship procured outside the normal channels with export potential. We also recognise the very tight timeline and rock bottom price is an immense challenge. Despite the concerns, the people who matter in the RN and British industry consider it a credible and attainable proposition and have devoted a great deal of time and effort in the bidding process.

Some of the cynicism about the project’s suspension has led to comments that include:

  • There is no money so technicalities have been used as an excuse to axe the project.
  • The timing was deliberate political decision so it would emerge just when Parliament went into recess for the summer to minimise the fallout.
  • BAE Systems/Cammell Laird are incapable of building affordable warships, wanted more money and their Leander bid was too expensive.
  • Leander is just a smokescreen for BAE Systems who want the project to fail and have used influence in government to undermine the process.
  • No one can make any profit or a credible ship for the £250M price cap so there were no bids.
  • The MDP review is in chaos and the MoD is too incompetent to manage the tendering process.

None of this is true

It should be noted that the National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSbS) is not being considered as part of the MDP review and is a government-wide initiative that goes beyond just the MoD that the Navy. Some may point out that the MoD is more than happy to run single source procurements when it suits them but Type 31e is a pathfinder project for the NSbS, with its emphasis on competition.

The contract to build the five ships is due to be awarded to by 31 March 2019. The clock is ticking down but there still remains 8 months for the process to be restarted, the new bids to be assessed and the decision to be made. The RN remains optimistic that new ships will be ready to replace the first type 23s when they go out of service. Type 31 has just encountered its first choppy seas but perhaps not the catastrophic storm that has been reported.


from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/royal-navy-type-31e-frigate-programme-suspension-no-cause-for-panic/

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Royal Navy Type 31e frigate programme abruptly suspended – but not dead in the water

on 20th July the MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agency informed UK industry that it has halted the Type 31e frigate programme. Although the objectives were always recognised as being highly challenging, there was growing enthusiasm across UK industry to be involved in the project and this sudden announcement is something of a shock.

An official spokesperson refused to be drawn on the deeper reasons for suspending the competition other than saying there were “insufficient compliant bids for an effective and robust competition”. This seems difficult to reconcile as there are at least two strong industry teams offering alternative options. As recently as 13 July, the Babcock “Team 31” were issuing invites to industry delegates to their Bristol Suppliers’ Conference with the clear assumption that the project was on track. Citing commercial sensitivity, the MoD will not give the specific reasons behind the failure to meet their requirements. Building a credible warship for £250M to a very tight timeframe was always going be difficult. On top of this, the bidding consortiums had to agree on complex divisions of work and financing between multiple contractors.

Fortunately, the Type 31e project does not appear to be dead in the water as the MoD says it will seek a new “streamlined” competition as soon as possible, although they cannot yet give a specific date as to when the new terms will be issued.

In an official statement today the MoD said “There have been no changes in our plans to procure a first batch of five new Type 31e frigates to grow our Royal Navy. We still want the first ship delivered by 2023 and are confident that industry will meet the challenge of providing them for the price tag we’ve set. This is an early contract in a wider procurement process, and we will incorporate the lessons learned and begin again as soon as possible so the programme can continue at pace.”

Five Type 31 frigates will not “grow our Royal Navy” but will only maintain the size of the existing fleet. HMS Argyll is due out of service in 2021 and further delays to an already tight timetable are clearly unhelpful. Let us hope this is merely a problem with paperwork that can be quickly resolved.



from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/type-31e-frigate-programme-abruptly-suspended/

Monday, 23 July 2018

Fuelling the fleet – the network that supplies oil to the Royal Navy

Without fuel the navy goes nowhere. Replenishment at sea is an important part of the RN’s global reach and is well understood, but more fundamental are the land-based organisations and facilities that ensure the fleet is supplied with oil and ammunition. In the first of a 2-part article, we focus on the fuel infrastructure.

Most fuel for HM ships is issued at the naval bases via the Oil Fuel Depots (OFD) located close to Portsmouth, Devonport and Faslane. There are a further three MoD-owned depots that can provide fuel to RN, NATO and commercial vessels in Scotland. There are also fuel facilities in Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and Singapore, whilst the RN also has access to the Greek-run shared NATO depot at Souda Bay, Crete.

The DSFA (Defence Strategic Fuels Authority) administers contracts with commercial suppliers for the supply of fuel to the MoD. It also places ‘spot bunker’ contracts for one-off fuel consignments worldwide to HM Ships, RFAs and Charter tankers. F-76 diesel is a specialised military fuel grade used by the RN and most NATO navies. It has no direct commercial equivalent and is not readily available in the market. Marine Gas Oil (MGO) or even F-44 can be used in an emergency by RN vessels if F-76 is unavailable but this impacts negatively on engine life and performance.

MV Cumbrian Fisher, on charter from James Fisher Everard unloading its cargo at the Gosport Oil Fuel Jetty, July 2017.

The oil freighting task, formerly undertaken by RFA ships, is now done by light tankers chartered from James Fisher Everard. These vessels collect the F-76 marine diesel and F-44 aviation fuel from the refineries, mostly around the UK, and deliver it to the OFDs. The fuel is stored at the depots an until needed. When a warship needs fuel it is connected to the network of fuel lines within the naval base that are fed from the nearby OFD. The naval air stations at Culdrose and Yeovilton are provided with aviation fuel from the OFDs delivered by road tanker.

The amount of fuel required by the fleet has declined significantly as the number of vessels has fallen and engines are becoming more efficient. Despite this, the volume of fuel demanded by the RN remains significant, for example the MoD purchased around 230,000 tons of marine diesel in 2014 alone. The arrival of the aircraft carriers will also place a greater demand peaks on the system and is driving new investment in the fuel supply infrastructure. To fully fuel HMS Queen Elizabeth requires 4,800 tonnes of diesel and 3,700 tonnes of aviation fuel. A Type 23 frigate can take on around 600 tonnes of diesel.

The Oil and Pipelines Agency (OPA), manages the Government Pipeline and Storage System (GPSS) and the six OFDs on behalf of the MoD. The GPSS is an obscure but critical strategic national asset (Privatised in 2015) consisting of network of oil storage sites and underground fuel pipes connecting oil terminals, refineries, civilian airports and RAF bases. The Naval OFDs are not, however, connected to the GPSS network and must be sustained with deliveries primarily by sea or occasionally by road.

The storage and handling of fuel is subject to stringent regulation. Safety, quality control, environmental and accounting considerations require competent people to manage the system and operate each of the OFDs. The MoD has a good record for the safe management of fuels, Civil Servants engaged in this kind of obscure work that is critical to operations on the front line are often maligned or forgotten.


Gosport Oil Fuel Depot at Forton provides fuel to the fleet across the harbour at Portsmouth Naval Base. The depot is supplied by ships discharging at Gosport Oil Fuel Jetty (OFJ). The jetty was originally built in the Victorian era but was extended in the 1950s to allow the berthing of deeper draught ships. Pipelines run the length of the jetty carrying marine diesel, aviation fuel, dirty ballast water and a fire-fighting main.

Portsmouth Naval base receives fuel from the Gosport depot (bottom right) which supplied by ships discharging at the jetty (top left).  (Photo: Google/DigitalGlobe)

After many years of uncertainty over its future, beginning this Spring the Gosport OFD is being upgraded under a £45 Million contract with J Murphy & Son. The depot was originally built in 1910 and seventeen riveted plate oil tanks, some over 100 years old will be replaced and new gatehouse and site security features added. Due for completion in 2021, the work will be done in phases to ensure continuity of fuel supplies during the upgrade.

It is interesting to note that the Portsdown Underground Fuel Bunker which held 137,700 tonnes of furnace fuel oil (FFO) used to be connected by three underground pipes to the Gosport fuel depot. FFO passed out of use in RN vessels with the end of steam propulsion and the Portsdown site was closed in 1989. It is instructive to consider the inherent protection from terrorism, air attack or serious accident provided by underground fuel tanks, compared to the above-ground tanks in a residential area of Gosport.

Thanckes and Yonderberry

Thanckes Oil Fuel Depot, Torpoint was originally built in the 1920s and provides fuel to Royal Fleet Auxiliaries and to warships across the river Tamar at Devonport Naval Base. The depot covers 97 acres and is supplied by ships discharging at Yonderberry Jetty. The tanks have storage for 145,000 tonnes of marine diesel, 17,000 tonnes of aviation fuel and 34,000 tonnes of oily water, dirty fuel and compensating water.

Thanckes Oil Fuel Depot (right) and Yonderberry Jetty (top left).  (Photo: Google/DigitalGlobe)

Yonderberry Jetty is suffering from corrosion and is going to be replaced under a £43M contract with marine construction specialist VolkerStevin. A brand new jetty will be built just to the north of the existing facility. The dredging and clearing works began in January with the main piling works starting in September 2018 and the whole project is due for completion by November 2019. The site is within a Special Area of Conservation on the River Tamar and the project has to comply very with stringent environmental regulations. Firefighting services in the depot and at the new jetty are also being improved.


There are four Oil Fuel Depots currently in operation in Scotland. All were built in the 1960s to NATO specification and originally had a total capacity of 600,000 tonnes. Drastic reductions in the size of the Royal Navy and the number of visiting US Navy vessels leaves the annual NATO naval fuel requirement in Scotland less than 10% of what it was in the 1960s. Despite this overcapacity, the four depots at Garelochhead (Faslane), Loch Striven (near Dunoon), Loch Ewe (Wester Ross) and Campbeltown (Kintyre), are still considered to have important strategic value and remain open. With the exception of Garelochhead, the MoD has attempted to reduce the overheads for each site by running them on minimum care and maintenance basis and sharing them with commercial operators.

  • RFA Tidespring at the Garelochead Oil and Fuel Jetty, April 2018. The shiplift at Faslane naval base can be seen in the background. (Photo: Harry Garland via Flickr)

  • HMS Diamond at Loch Striven OFD in 2011. There are 19 oil tanks buried in the hillside behind the jetty which is used by naval and commercial vessels.

  • HMS Ledbury Campbeltown

    HMS Ledbury at the Campbeltown Oil Fuel Jetty, May 2008. (Photo: Steve Partridge)

  • Loch Ewe Oil Fuel Depot on the eastern shore of the only North-facing loch in Scotland. It is also a licenced ‘Z’ birth, which allows nuclear submarines to come alongside for short periods. There is deep water not far from the jetty, minimising the time a submarine needs to spend on the surface. (Photo: Nilfanion via Wikipedia).

  • Close up of Gosport OFD prior to redevelopment, looking east across to Portsmouth naval base.  (Photo: Google.com/Digital Globe)

  • Thanckes Oil Fuel Depot, Torpoint, Cornwall

    Close up of Thanckes OFD looking east across the Tamar to Devonport Naval base. Note the deep trenches designed to prevent oil from spilling into the river in the event of a major leak.  (Photo: Google.com/Digital Globe)

  • MV Clyde Fisher at Yonderberry Jetty

    MV Clyde Fisher at Yonderberry Jetty, July 2018 (Photo: RFA Nostalgia)

Garelochhead OFD is just to the north of Faslane and provides fuel to the base. Faslane’s fuel requirements are more modest than Portsmouth and Devonport as it is primarily a nuclear-powered submarine base. However the submarines embark small amounts of fuel for back up diesel generators and the base supports the Sandown class minehunters as well as other RN and NATO warship visitors. Unlike the English facilities, all of the Scottish OFD tanks are partially or fully buried underground, reducing their impact on the scenic landscapes of the region and offering some protection from attack.

General Robert H. Barrow of the USMC famously remarked: “amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics”. It is clear, even from this cursory study, that provision of fuel for a globally-deployable navy that can respond quickly to events is no simple matter. In part two of this article, we will consider the munitions infrastructure that enables the RN’s fighting capability.

Main image: HMS Iron Duke alongside at Campbeltown Oil and Fuel Jetty, Nov 2011.

from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/fuelling-the-fleet-the-network-that-supplies-oil-to-the-royal-navy/

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Making sense of the Royal Navy’s frigate building schedule

In an earlier article, we examined the slow build and delivery schedule for the first Type 26 frigates. With this infographic, we attempt to assess how the projected construction schedule fits with the decommissioning of the Type 23 frigates.


This is very much an outline projection using elements of guesswork, based on the limited information available today and is likely to change. There are several important assumptions made in the timeline. Type 31s will be laid down in a drumbeat of approximately 1 per year and as simpler ships, their trials and introduction into service should be much faster than the Type 26. It has been stated that the first three Type 26s will be under construction for about 8 years with first of class trials and work up lasting almost 2 years. The first three ships are being laid down at around 18-24 month intervals. It is assumed the later ships will be laid down at about the same rate but constructed and brought into service slightly faster, although this would appear to be imperative, it is uncertain at this time.


Each of the five Type 31e frigates will have to be constructed, complete sea trials and worked up in around 4 years (the contract will be awarded in early 2019) if they are to be ready to replace the first five Type 23s on time. This is very demanding and does not provide any slack, should any significant construction snags or technical problems arise.

If everything goes to plan, there will be a less taught period in the late 2020s when there will be a few Type 26s delivered in advance of out of service dates for the Type 23s they are replacing.

Unless the rate of laying of down ships and/or the construction time of the later Type 26s is considerably reduced, there will be problems replacing the last of the Type 23s on time. Either frigate numbers will dip below 13 or some Type 23s will have to carry on serving past their 33rd birthdays.

If the latter part of the Type 26 programme is not sped up, there will also be potential capacity issues in building the Type 45 destroyer replacements. (Assuming BAE Systems in Glasgow remains the only yard capable of high-end complex warship construction).


from Save the Royal Navy https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/making-sense-of-the-royal-navys-frigate-building-schedule/

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 https://www.savetheroyalnavy.org/in-focus-the-highly-versatile-bay-class-auxiliaries/