Under the UK’s Surface Combatant Sustainability programme (later the Future Surface Combatant or FSC) the surface combatant fleet’s capabilities is seen as being provided by no less than 3 separate classes of ship in the future, the ‘lower end’ C3 variant being described as an multirole vessel replacing the current Ocean Patrol Vessels (OPV), Mine Counter Measures Vessels (MCMV’s) and even the survey vessels of the Hydrographic squadron.
I wrote the majority of this piece early last year, before the current Think Defence articles, however as FSC seems to be still on the go, I think this article fits well with what ‘Admin’ has said so far about the C3.
The exact nature and size of the vessels depends on whether the programme omits the mid-size (5000 tonne) C2 frigates or not. If the C2 goes ahead the C3 / OPV’s could be between 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes but if it is decided to build more slightly capable OPV’s then they might grow to around 3000 tonnes / 100 metres.
To put this in perspective, lets look at some older RN ‘escorts’ and various international OPV type vessels (as these are generally bigger than MCMV):
As can be seen above there is considerable spread across the size range of what have been called OPV’s by their manufacturers or users, with the Dutch ships being bigger in displacement than previous RN frigates. The French Floreal class ‘patrol frigates’ are the most heavily armed of this group, but there are plenty of ‘light frigates’ or Corvettes which are far more heavily armed. However these vessels are generally about long patrol ranges, ability to carry embarked forces or rescued ‘victims’ and generally are not fitted with anything bigger than the ubiquitous OTO 76mm, but also note that many carry an embarked helicopter. The very large US Coast Guard vessel is not heavily armed, but can carry 2 helicopters !
In the RN context, if the C3 is to be built to replace HMS Clyde (and the other River Class) as a patrol vessel, HMS Enterprise and sister ship as ‘ocean going’ survey vessels, and Hunt Class ‘deployable’ MCMV’s, plus take on the ‘long deployments’ required for the maritime security operations role required by the ‘global war on terror’, then they will need to be at the larger end of the scale to provide the multi-purpose capabilities required. Further more, as these vessels will be a mainstay of the RN surface fleet, not an addition, they will need to be able to take on a ‘major war’ role such as ASW escort or MCMV in a medium to high threat environment.
The Spanish Navy’s 2500 tonne BAM patrol vessels provide one model of what is required for a long range patrol ship:
The BAM is sized a round the hanger and flight deck for the NFH90 helicopter, and the 76m main gun. They have a multi-purpose working deck aft, with cranes and the ability to carry a number of containers:
The Dutch navy vessels are considerably larger than the Spanish ones, although they will carry a similar size helicopter and have the same main armament:
The French manufacturer DCN has a number of designs (which look very similar to VT’s designs)
Since I originally wrote this article the shipbuilding company known as Vosper Thornycroft (VT) has ceased to exist and has become VT Group Plc and their new website does not appear to give much details on their product portfolio. [ED: I think VT are out of the shipbuilding game now]
However VT have along history of building patrol vessels, and have recently built the River class OPV’s, including the ‘batch 2’ helicopter capable HMS Clyde. They have also designed larger vessels for Malaysia and Oman. VT have previously shown a design based on an enlarged Omani OPV, which includes a larger stern multi-purpose working area, a helicopter deck (and Lynx sized hangar ?) and the standard 76mm gun
The Ideal design for the C3 ‘Multirole OPV’
The C3 can itself sit somewhere in a spectrum between 2000 tonnes to 3000 tonnes, between UAV capable and full Helo capable, between “cheap and cheerful” and “more capable”. The features below describe what might be considered as the ‘high end’ for C3.
There are a number of possibly conflicting requirements for the C3 OPV:
- Primary peace time ‘global constabulary’ maritime security patrol role
- Primary ‘major war’ ASW escort role
- Secondary peace and war roles such as MCMV and survey
There appear to be a number of main features which can provide the desired flexibility:
- Helicopter capability
- A flexible deck area able to be configured for a particular role
- A base sensor fit good enough for the ‘major war’ role
- Long range / endurance with small basic complement and low running costs
To achieve the basic long range requirements, a direct drive diesel, or diesel-electric power plant is required. To keep the complement down the latest ship control automation mush be used, including automated damage control sensors and systems. All equipment must be COTS / MOTS and non-developmental to both keep costs down and ensure programme viability.
A key to multi-role flexibility is the aviation capability. The Spanish vessels show what is possible with a 2500 tonne ship fitted with a hanger and flight deck sized for the Eurocopter NFH90. An RN vessel would probably carry a Lynx, but could ideally have hanger sized for a slightly larger future replacement (for example the AW139), providing additional space for alternative roles.
The helicopter is also key to ‘major war’ roles, carrying Sea Skua (or its eventual replacement) anti-ship missiles, or lightweight anti-submarine torpedoes. As such a major element of the design should be a flexible main magazine space, capable of storing Stingray torpedoes, Sea Skua, HellFire, or other munitions.
The magazine should ideally be constructed of armoured steel with Kevlar spall liners, even if the vessel overall is constructed to “civillian” merchant marine standards.
Sensor fit and Major War capabilities
The main ‘fleet’ role for these vessels in a major operation is ASW, however they should have sufficient self defence capability against air attack, including sea skimming missiles. For the ASW role a bow mounted active HF / MF active sonar should be fitted. This might have a secondary obstacle avoidance / MCM capability. Additional capability would include passive surveillance towed array, active / passive towed array, and anti-torpedo systems fitted on the ‘flex-deck’ aft.
The vessels should be fitted with integral hull mounted dual torpedo tubes port and starboard, fed from the main magazine. Of course the torpedo carrying helo is also a main ASW weapons system.
Anti-air capability is restricted to self defence, including the latest version of the 76mm gun with radar-guided sub-calibre ‘darts’, with its anti-missile capability. The main anti-missile system however might consist of either a Phalanx gun CIWS, a Phalanx SeaRAM or a MK49 RAM launcher, the later giving the largest amount of ‘rounds’ (21) carried.
The main radar surveillance fit would probably not stretch to the ‘integrated mast’ fit of the Dutch vessels, even SMART-S MK2 might be ‘over the top’, however the smaller MPR3D, 3D surv. set with its 180KM (90 nm) range is probably a good compromise. An EO sensor set will also be fitted. A missile based CIWS is better for a decent kill distance against hi-tech (supersonic) threat, the MK49 launcher weighs in at 5.7 tonnes and carries 21 rounds that have a similar range to SeaWolf (RAM Mk1 about 7.5km).
Two launchers (hanger roof, bridge roof ?) would give 42 rounds, pretty good ‘combat persistence’. Perhaps standard fit would be one launcher, the second being ‘fitted for but not with’, until required for a major war scenario ? However it may even be possible to fit the new, under development Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) system, especially as it appear this is to be developed with a ‘cold gas’ (or soft launch) VL system.
A commercially available command, control and communications fit should be employed, with modular consoles which can be re-roled (i.e. depending on the towed array, or MCM fit). The system should however be able to take the radar (and data linked provided) data and cue the anti-air weapons fast enough (30 to 20 seconds) to deal with supersonic anti-ship missiles.
A full fit of multi-barrelled SeaGnat or SRBOC type decoy launchers should be employed to launch chaff, flares, active ‘off board jammers’ , anti-torpedo countermeasures and even IR smoke ‘obscuring’ rounds.
Secondary armament might consist of port and starboard cannon, with on mount sensors for remote operation, preferably with the new 40mm Case Telescoped Ammunition gun in an IAI Typhoon mounting. If the main 76mm mount was fitted in an Danish Stanflex type ‘containerised’ fashion, then this gun might be replaced by a third 40mm for ships acting in the survey role or on ‘West Indies Guard Ship’ etc. There would probably be at least four .50 cal MG / 7.62mm “mini-gun” mounts for close in defence against ‘asymmetric’ threats.
The base complement might be around 70, with an additional 40 berths to include the ‘ships flight’, embarked military forces (RM boarding parties or SF) or ‘war’ augmentees (extra sonar operators and Damage Control parties).
Flexible ‘mission fits
It is suggested the VT design provides a good basis as what provides a flexible mission specific equipment area on the Quarterdeck aft of the flight deck, similar to the Spanish BAM, it has a crane, space for two 20ft ISO containers, an over the stern launch well for boats and what appears to be storage for additional boats, the low res graphic below has been enhanced with my ham-fisted attempt at outlining some of the major features:
2 & 3 – 20ft ISO containers
4 – Crane
5 – x 3 additional large RHIB type boats under covers ?
This would appear to provide plenty of space for different equipment fits, in fact if midships boat provision is port and starboard as other photos of models and artists impressions suggest, then with this fit there is a total of 6 RHIB’s (of varying sizes ?) available for ‘fast pursuit’ and boarding activities.
So what might the different equipment fits be that would utilize this area ?
- Patrol Ops – 2 x 20 ft IAO containers with various stores plus the 4 extra boats mentioned above
- Littoral ASW – Thales CAPTAS-NANO active/passive towed array, and possibly Spartan USV’s with FLASH dipping sonar
- Open Ocean ASW – Thales CAPTAS / Type 2087 towed array and SeaSentor torpedo defence system
- MCMV – Unmanned Surface Vehicles with side scan sonar, acoustic and magnetic influence arrays, Unmmaned Underwater Vehicles with sonar, TV and demolition charges (and FireScout UAV with ‘MagicLantern’ mine hunting sensors ?) or containers containing the kit for Clearance Diving teams, plus a 1 man emergency decompression chamber etc.
- Anti-ship – two quad Harpoon or NSM3 launchers in place of containers ?
- Anti-air – Based on information released so far the new VL Common Anti-Air Modular Missile (CAMM) being developed to replaced SeaWolf and Rapier as a point defence system.
- Land attack – containerized VL silo’s in place of the standard containers could contain vertical launchers for Lockheed Martin’s new 7 inch diameter, 220lb P44 precision attack missile (Inertial-GPS guided rocket with tri-mode terminal guidance; semi-active laser, MMW radar and imaging infra-red seekers and a 28lb metal-augmented charge warhead) with a 70km / 43 mile range. A standard HIMARS / MLRS pod can carry 10 of these missiles.
- In fact if VL is not developed then a HIMARS type launcher on each quarter (where the containers are) would provide 20 rounds, with additional pods carried where the RHIBs are stowed in the photos of the models.
So, it might be possible to give a enhanced anti-air and even a littoral land attack role as expansion options to the basic patrol and anti-submarine roles.
So the C3 OPV version by VT may look something like this:
1. 76mm Oto Super Rapid in low observable mounting
2. Space above bridge for MK49 RAM launcher, Phalanx or SeaRAM
3. SMART-S MkII (?)
4. 4 x rocket launchers (chaff, flares, off-board active jammers etc)
5. Hanger between funnels,
6. Lynx helicopter on flight deck
7. flex deck including over the stern launching arrangement
8. Bow mounted sonar
9. port and starboard 40mm CTA gun mounting
10.port and starboard RHIB’s
11. 3 x RHIB for patrol role
So how many C3 OPV’s would we need, and how many could we get?
Well it depends on price, but if we say that we need to replace 4 x Type 22 and 13 x Type 23 Frigates in total, plus 6 MCMV’s, and that we might have 10 of the C1 highly capable Frigates then that leaves us with a requirement for say 16 hulls.
If we actually get 8 Type 45 destroyers, that still leaves us slightly short of the identified requirement for ‘surface combatants’ in the Strategic Defence Review.
So add on a couple more, plus two more later to replace Enterprise and Echo and we could see 18 – 20 of these multi-purpose vessels in service alongside 8 AAW destroyers and 8 – 10 multi-purpose Frigates, so its probably going to depend on what the price can be kept down to.