UK MoD issues tender for two and “optional” third Fleet Solid Support Ship

The UK defense ministry has issued a tender for the acquisition of Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships which will be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary.

MARS FSS design. Photo: UK-NDP

Compared to the 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review which confirmed the need for three Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Fleet Solid Support (FSS) vessels, the tender states the MOD is seeking to procure up to three ships, “with a firm requirement for two ships and an option for a further one ship”.

The FSS ships are to have a total cargo capacity of up to 7000 m3 and travel at a sustained speed of 18 knots without resupply. The platform must be capable of delivering non bulk logistic material whilst underway and making 12 knots through the water and transferring single loads of up to 5 tonnes.

The tender further states that the ships shall be capable of Replenishing at Sea (RAS) and conducting operations worldwide.

The tender comes following an uproar over the government’s decision to put the £1 billion contract for building the ships out to tender in international shipyards. The issue also prompted Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to demand that the three new Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels be built in UK shipyards.

The Fleet Solid Support Ships will be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) which is tasked with the delivery of logistic support to the UK Royal Navy whilst at sea (Afloat Support). Its ships are currently merchant registered and British Flagged, regulated by the Maritime Coastguard Agency and classified by Lloyds Register.

The role of RFA Solid Support ships is to replenish surface warships and other auxiliaries with ammunition (ordnance, munitions and explosives), food and solid stores. Solid Support ships must be capable of safely embarking, storing, preparing for and conducting underway Replenishment at Sea (RAS).

“The introduction of the Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carrier and its aircraft, the F-35B Lightning II, represent a significant increase in our Carrier Strike capability. That needs a corresponding increase in the tempo and volume of solid support, something that cannot be met by our current ships,” the UK MoD said. “While Carrier Strike will move into new realms of air combat, amphibious operations will remain equally demanding, particularly the need operate in the littoral with the different threats and environmental conditions that this will pose. The FSS ships will need to support all tasks for the future Royal Navy, from full Carrier strike war-fighting through to Peacetime operations.”