BMT leaders weigh in on logistic support projects

Two BMT Defense Services chiefs recently expressed their views on the fleet support vessels delivered to the world’s navies and on the potential for future vessels to be less single-role specific and more multi-role in their functionality.

Looking into the future, Andy Kimber, chief naval architect for surface ship design and Rob Steel, head of business development – auxiliary platforms at BMT Defence Services, a subsidiary of BMT Group, use example concepts to explore how modular and flexible approaches could retain capability in-theatre cost effectively.

Defence Chiefs across the world are grappling with the consequences of continuing cost pressures to reduce public sector expenditure. As ably put in a speech earlier this year, Admiral Tim Barrett, Chief of Navy for the Royal Australian Navy said “more is expected from less, and less is constantly replaced with less still”. Delivering value for money will certainly remain under tight scrutiny for the coming years so how do Fleet Commanders ensure they can achieve this, whilst providing the range of supporting roles required to sustain a maritime presence both regionally and globally.

In his recent speech at this year’s Defence and Security International event in London, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir George Zambellas reinforced the importance of technology innovation in helping to deliver value for money. Highlighting the recent launch of the Global Marine Technology Trends 2030 Report, Admiral Zambellas pinpointed six key technologies that have the power to change how the UK’s Royal Navy operates in the future: one of which is interoperability. He said: “Open systems and architecture will allow us to benefit from modularity – allowing us to swiftly reconfigure for the mission in hand. That, in turn, delivers interoperability, sustainability and value for money.”


Multi-role vs single-role


Unsurprisingly, a number of navies are now considering or indeed, procuring vessels with multi-role functionalities as opposed to single-role to help deliver cost efficiencies. However, the answer to whether a multi-role ship is cost effective is perhaps more subtle than purely the costs themselves and the fleet size must be considered before making the choice. In the ‘small fleet’, there may only be one or very few auxiliary vessels and it is unlikely that the full range of capabilities exist. On this basis, the multi-role vessel has the opportunity to offer new capabilities for modest cost increases in new vessel investment.

This is true of the Norwegian Defence Logistics Organisation’s (NDLO) logistics and support vessel (LSV) which has been specifically designed to cover a multitude of roles. Currently being built by DSME in its Okpo yard, the auxiliary vessel will measure 180 metres in length, 26 metres in beam, have a displacement of over 26,000 tonnes and is due to be delivered to the Royal Norwegian Navy at the end of November 2016.

Based on BMT’s Aegir replenishment ship design, the purpose of the LSV is to enhance the endurance of the Norwegian Task Group’s maritime operations. Its main roles will be: replenishment at sea (liquids and solids); helicopter operations; carriage of ammunition, containerised cargo and Lo-Lo cargo; provision of hospital and medical facilities and command and control. The vessel has also been designed to undertake a number of secondary roles including: sovereignty and authority; sealift and logistics support to other units of the Norwegian Armed Forces, as well as acting as the mother ship to patrol craft and submarines; salvage and repair; search and rescue; humanitarian aid and disaster relief with the capacity to also carry out other roles such as harbour protection.

For more ‘medium’ sized fleets, the capabilities may be present but delivered by different ships. This causes the obvious difficulty that when a ship with a specific capability is unavailable, the capability is temporarily lost. If roles delivered by two ships can be combined then this clearly offers the opportunity to have two ships delivering both capabilities. Selecting the right mix of capabilities to combine becomes a conscious decision on the balance of individual project affordability versus the flexibility afforded by more multi-role platforms. Hence, the Australian Navy through its SEA1654 project is seeking to procure a multi-commodity stores and fuel replenishment ship, which may also offer a degree of logistic capability. Two such platforms would ensure that one would always remain available to provide fleet support; three platforms would ensure the availability of at least one platform on each coast.

Interestingly, the larger navies tend not to follow the multi-role route as the vessels will likely operate within task groups where there will always be a number of auxiliary vessels present. In this case, there is a more limited advantage in combining roles as the overall hull numbers are not reduced. This is because the performance in individual roles cannot be compromised and the vessels are already large meaning that further growth to accommodate multi-role functionalities is not realistically practical. Hence, adoption of multi-role vessels within this environment can add complexity and cost to the vessels. It is for this reason that the UK is now reverting to separate tanker and stores ships for the MARS (Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability) Tanker project.

As part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s fleet, the four new MARS Tide Class Tankers will offer logistical support to the Royal Navy by providing fuel, food and fresh water to naval vessels at sea. The vessels will each be just over 200 metres in length, 28 metres in beam, and have a displacement of over 37,000 tonnes. Each will be able to carry the equivalent volume of more than seven Olympic-sized swimming pools of fuel cargo and although it has a primary role of providing ‘Replenishment at Sea’, the vessel is considered interoperable because of the helicopter operations it can deliver. Here we have two logistic support projects, both requiring very different single-role and multi-role capabilities but based on a highly flexible design which can be easily tailored.