The final three sections contain worked examples for small, medium and large versions.
MSS (Small) – Platform Supply Vessel Conversion
The PSV conversion is the absolute bargain basement, devoid of any frills.
To start, let’s go shopping on the second hand lot!
The 81m PSV described in Part 1 is our target vessel, currently sitting in Hamburg and available for the princely sum of $2.25 million, or about £1.6 million. This is as common, cheap and simple as they get, a UT 705 design built in 1979, so no spring chicken, but hey, less than £2m. The SeaOwl VN Partisan training vessel described above is a UT 705 design, by the way.
The specifications are as follows;
Dimensions: Length overall, 80.77m. Beam, 18.01m. Maximum draft: 5.61m. Deadweight 3,910 Tonnes
Capacities: Deck Area 55m x 15m. Fuel capacity, 627 Cubic Metres. Water capacity, 477 Gallons. Oil Based Mud 3,996 bbls @ 100%. Brine 2,516 bbls @ 100%. Dry Bulk 172 m3 in 4 tanks
Accommodation; Berths, 26. Cabins, 14 x 1 man and 1 x 12 Man. Workshops, hospital room, gym, galley, crew mess, day room, laundry and stores.
Class Notation; DNV +1A1, EO/worldwide UK DTp
Propulsion; Engine power: 2 x 2400. Fuel Consumption: 8 Tons Per Day. Cruising Speed: 11 Knots. Maximum Speed: 12 Knots. Bow Thuster 2 x 750 BHP. Stern Thruster 2 x 750 BHP. Rudders Twin Spade
Winches and Cranes; Capstans 2 x 10 T. Deck Crane 1 x 2.5 T SWL @ 5m. Tugger Winch 1 x 5 T
Navigation and Communications; 2 x Marine VHF. 1 x Emergency VHF. 3 x portable VHF radios. Internal calling system. Cellcall telephone. Satcom “SAT C” System. Navtex Receiver. 1 x Sat-M phonefax. 1 x Gyrostar Gyrocompass. 1 x Skipper GDS 101 Echo sounder. 1 x Robertson AP9 MK2 Auto-pilot. 2 x Racal/Decca Bridgemaster Radars. 1 x Nor/Ron 360 Magnetic compass. 2 x GPS Receiver
Although it is most basic, it is manoeuvrable and capable of operating in extreme sea conditions.
Oh, and did I mention, less than £2 million!
Assuming that after a survey, the basic ship condition is sound, a number of works packages can be defined. This kind of work is bread and butter for many of the smaller UK yards, we need not worry the Clyde. Cost must always be a major factor, the whole point of this example is to show what can be achieved for ‘not a lot’
Given I am no naval architect, am making a few assumptions/guesses here.
Package 01 – Hull and Fixtures; refresh the paintwork and anti-fouling coatings, ensure all fixtures (mooring bollards, railing, ladders etc.) are sound, remove and repair any structural damage. A new lifeboat and ships boat should complete the job.
Package 02 – Power, Propulsion and Machinery; if the engines, power system, water treatment and propulsion equipment can be reasonably supported for a ten year lifespan then they should be refurnished. If not, selective replacements would probably be desirable. They may not be rated for warm water operation and this would be a factor is deciding on refurbishment or replacement. One thing that might force an upgrade is the requirement for power for electronic systems and payload modules, additional generator capacity and distribution equipment for example, is likely to be required.
Package 03 – Accommodation; the accommodation is likely to need complete replacement, good facilities contribute to retention and there may be specific requirements for the potential crew. Sleeping quarters, gyms, rest rooms, offices , galleys, laundry, workshops and treatment rooms can all be brought up to modern standards. A secure ammunition and weapons store would be a new addition. Because there may be additional crew added as part of the mission module approach, the basic services like galley, laundry and other non-sleeping accommodation should be designed to cater for a slight increase.
Package 04 – Fluid Cargo Systems; on PSV’s, the lower deck contains large facilities for liquid cargo; drilling mud, freshwater, brine and fuel are typically pumped onto oil rigs and other offshore facilities. Probably the easiest thing to do with the pumps, pipework and storage tanks would be to simply leave them in place, but taken together they represent a significant volume that could be used for other things.
If it didn’t adversely affect stability or was too expensive, I would be inclined to use the space for additional fuel, potable water and stores in to extend the vessels unsupported endurance.
Package 05 – Electronic Systems; What we should not do is try and turn a £2m ship into a vessel that contains £100m worth of electronics, that would be silly. There are what might be considered a set of baseline systems that allows the ship to operate in its intended roles, namely sensors, ships network, navigation and communications.
In 2014, the first four of a number of UK MCM vessels were upgraded with the latest X Band SCOT Patrol 0.8 communications equipment. Secure HF/VHF/UHF radio would also be added, something like the Software Defined M3SR (series 4100 and 4400) VHF/UHF and HF transceivers from Rhode and Schwarz, as fitted to other RN vessels. Would it need Link 11, 14 and 16, no, not really, so we can avoid the cost of fitting and maintaining such like. 3G and GSM might be useful, as would an underwater telephone.
The MoD has recently let a contract to install the latest Kelvin Hughes SharpEye navigation, surface search and short range air control radars across the fleet. It is the kind of basic system that would make sense because it is cheap and simple, but if a more capable system was deemed necessary, something like the Terma Scanter 4100 as fitted to the River Class might be equally sensible.
Finally, a basic day/night electro-optical system, searchlight and electronic chart would complete the major electronic systems. There is no need for additional acoustic or fire control systems so something low cost like the Chess Dynamics Sea Eagle is appropriate. The Aptomar Securus would be a good alternative.
A ship wide Local Area Network should also be installed.
The equipment selected is certainly at the low end, but that is the point, they are basic and cheap. There may be some potential for Selex, BAE or Thales, for example, to create a low-end integrated mast solution. The Thales i-Mast for example, although it would be of a lower specification that their current range.
Package 06 – Weapons; the images show GPMG, M2 and Dillon Aerospace M134 Miniguns (Mk44), all should be available for basic self-defence, with pintle mounts at appropriate locations.
No other fixed weapons should be fitted.
How much have we spent so far?
Any number would, frankly, be a guess, but making an educated guess based on other refits and contracts regularly described in the trade press, would anyone think such a set of modest upgrades and refurbishments would cost in excess of £10-15 million? Add some project management, design and consultancy costs, on top of the basic purchase cost of the ship and some contingency, and my big fat finger in the air calculator comes out at around £25 million.
Let’s not forget, this is just for one vessel, the second hand market doesn’t usually cater for multiples of the same design, especially at the bottom end, but, it demonstrates what can be done for a small amount.
At this point, we have an innocuous looking, slightly aged, high endurance maritime pickup truck that can operate for extended periods in all types of weather. It has a basic set of sensors and good connectivity with decent crew accommodation, modern facilities, and a large flat cargo deck.
On the down side, it has no aviation facilities, no facilities for loading and unloading vehicles and no accommodation for embarked personnel either. The fitted crane is only useful for loading and unloading ships stores.
Useful, yes, but still rather basic.
The key to its usefulness is the large, flat, open deck, approximately 55m x 16m, capable of carrying 2,500 tonnes. This could support 36 Twenty Foot Equivalent containers. Double stack and use 45ft Hi Cube containers and that works out to roughly 3,000 cubic metres volume, or 900 tonnes. Instead of containers, convert the space to lane metres (approximately 3m wide) and it translates to 275 lims, 30 MAN HX60 trucks. Obviously, these would have to be craned on and off but it does provide some idea of cargo capacity.
Going back to the roles list it could probably fulfil the Submarine Rescue role with no additional equipment or modification. All that is needed is a flat clear deck for the LARS and TUP. This would also make the assumption that the MSS is in the right place at the right time, with easily demountable or cleared cargo deck. The beauty of the NATO Submarine Rescue System is that it can be flown to a port and fitted to any vessel that can accommodate it.
Without modification it could also perform some of the other roles, but only parts of them.
This leads to a conclusion that some additional equipment is needed that will enable modular solutions to be utilised. In addition to the smaller TEU sized module, semi-permanent custom made modules that are as wide as the deck could be fabricated. These could be lifted in and secured by onshore facilities. 16m wide ‘maxi modules’ could be anything from a UAV hangar to an accommodation block, not everything has to be limited by a TEU’s dimensions.
Modular solutions need not be swapped every other week, another incorrect assumption people often make, but to make the most of them, additional systems are needed.
The following are additional work packages that enable the cargo deck to be utilised for modules and other cargo.
Package 07 – Additional Accommodation; to provide a flexible accommodation space for embarked personnel, immediately aft of the forward superstructure would be four container wide installation, three high, similar to that shown in the image below.
The modules are placed inside a lifting frame that also acts as gangways, stairs, landings and emergency exits.
Four containers are approximately 10m wide which leaves ample space either side for access routes to and from the forward superstructure and cargo deck. Because the embarked personnel would make use of the ships facilities for eating, laundry and other functions, the modular block needs only cater for sleeping and ablutions, with some office and storage space.
The bottom layer of four containers would be ablutions and showers, with the remaining two used as a locker/ready room and office/briefing room. For the remaining eight containers a decision on sleeping density would dictate the final capacity. Using 8 bed containers could provide space for 64 personnel but this would be a maximum and it would probably be better if a mix of densities were installed. Two 8 bed, five 4 bed, and 1 2 bed containers provides a good mix, for a maximum of thirty eight sleeping spaces.
Using 33 foot containers in a 40 foot lifting frame provides optimal density. The accommodation block module results in the loss of 13m length from the 55m cargo deck, leaving 42m for other payloads and cargo.
Package 08 – Services Distribution; along both sides of the cargo deck, services and utilities connection panels would allow modules and equipment to be connected using flexible cables and hoses. By using the standard 20ft ISO container as a universal module shape, the multi-services panel spacing can be easily determined. Modules can simply be placed, secured and clipped in to the relevant service or utility.
Package 09 – Loading/Unloading Ramp; the closed stern and cargo rails mean vehicles, modules and containers would have to be craned on-board using harbour or other ships cranes. Once deployed, they would be no easy method of offloading, again, only a shore or external crane. This is far from ideal so a simple RORO ramp, fitted to one side, adjacent to the superstructure, would provide a significant increase in flexibility, the ability to load and unload vehicles and trailers. To keep costs down, only one would be needed, but it would be advantageous if the ramp were self-supporting so that it could be used to land onto an adjacent Mexeflote or pontoon. Some space provision inboard would also need to be made to accommodate height differences and vehicle turning radii.
This space would then leave 35m for other payloads.
Package 10 – Crane; a fixed pedestal crane would allow cargo and vehicles to be loaded and offloaded. For example, it could carry a Mexeflote or other pontoon system, crane it over the side and then lift stores onto the Mexeflote, all whilst at sea. There are many types of marine and offshore cranes, available from a broad range of manufacturers such as Palfinger, TTS, Leibherr, McGregor Cargotec, Pellegrini, Heila, NDM and Kenz.
MSS does not need a heavy lift crane or one with a deep subsea heave compensation systems, it can be relatively simple. The large subsea active heave compensation cranes can be £3-4 million, hardly in keeping with our bargain basement approach. All it needs is to be able to move containers, vehicles, pallets and others break bulk cargo from the harbour side to the deck and the deck to a floating platform adjacent. The cheapest is a fixed (or stiff) boom crane but a telescopic boom crane provides a good blend of cost, lifting capacity and boom length. The Palfinger PTM 1500 or PTM 3000 for example, the latter of wich can lift 22 tonnes. For smaller loads but operability in higher sea states, Barge Master offers an interesting motion compensated crane, the BM-T40, 15 tonnes at 10 metre radius.
Package 11 – Davits; launching small craft using the main crane would not be ideal, indeed, in higher sea states it would be dangerous. Therefore, boat launch davits will be required, much of the utility of MSS is derived from its small craft. They would cut into the deck space but it is a worthwhile trade off. Manufacturers include Vetsadvit, TTS, Caley and Norsafe.
Go for a model that can support craft up to 15m and it could easily accommodate the Thales/ASV Halcyon for MCM, the ARCIMS for combined influence sweeping, combat support boat, Army work boat, Pacific 24 and Offshore Raiding Craft. Go up to 20m and increase the weight and even the LCVP or a Combat Boat 90 are possible.
If it were operating in the MCM role, there would be ample space for SIX Halcyon davits and enough room for four a lengthwise control containers, stores and workshops, these could also be double stacked with ease. Lose two davit slots and this would free up enough room for a 15m long landing pad for UAV’s, with some storage space underneath.
Package 12 – Landing Deck; Assuming at least two (one each side) 15m davit leaves 24m available for other uses, about the same size as a Type 23 Frigate helicopter landing deck. Clearly, fitting a helicopter deck would be on a semi-permanent basis and given the scope of the other work packages, would not provide open deck space for anything else. It would be the accommodation block, a pair of davits, a small amount of clear space between them and the landing deck, and nothing else.
It could be fitted in such a manner that there was some space available beneath it but the handling equipment would add additional cost, it remains an option though, and would provide approximately 12 TEU’s worth of space, or 120 lane metres for vehicles.
Comparing the capacities against potential roles;
Humanitarian Assistance Disaster Response; the basic configuration, without landing pad, provides a good platform for HADR. Accommodation for a combat engineer and logistics troop, plus a handful of other specialists. The two davits could be used for a Pacific 24, Combat Support Boat or even a new build Alnmaritec Wave Supplier landing craft (similar to that carried by HMS Protector). The deckspace, used for a disassembled Mexeflote, vehicles and stores containers. When on location, and assuming no port facilities exist, the crane would offload the Mexeflote and stores or vehicles onto it for transport to shore. In this configuration the open deck space left would be 15m wide by 25m long. A couple of MAN HX 4×4 trucks, two JCB Telehandlers, two JCB 4CX and a couple of Land Rovers would be joined by 16 20ft ISO containers of relief stores and engineering tools and equipment.
Training and Defence Engagement; It seems to me that the VN Partisan provides a near perfect configuration for training. The only exception would be where the Partisan has the containers mid-point on the cargo deck for aviation training spaces, the MSS accommodation units would take up this space, so only a minimum aviation training space could be provided. If aviation training were dispensed with, or limited to small UAV’s like a Scan Eagle or Camcopter, the smaller flight deck and space beneath, would provide valuable training facilities.
Maritime and Littoral Security; again, helicopter facilities become the determinant factor in configuration. Facilities for a Wildcat (or similar) helicopter would still provide enough space for 4 12m davits. The additional personnel would likely be Army or Royal Marines, with specialist UAV operators as required. In addition to the four small craft (Pacific 24’s, Offshore Raiding Craft etc.), there would be ample space for a small UAV like Scan Eagle and 4 or 5 container sized modules for operations rooms and stores, perhaps even prisoner containment. An alternative might see the deck space used for four Combat Boat 90’s or similar, although there would be only five or six metres of open deck space left over for UAV launch and recovery.
Medical Support; am not convinced there is enough space for medical facilities so in this configuration, MSS is unsuitable for the RFA Argus role. It still might be useful for medical support in a HADR context, although again, capacity would be limited.
Salvage, Repair and Fire Fighting; an 80m PSV like this has about 30m less length than RFA Diligence which represents a lot of lost space, so in this configuration, like medical, am not convinced it would be suitable. Additional cranes and workshops would be required, turning a cheap vessel into an expensive vessel. Therefore, this version would not be a suitable RFA Diligence replacement. Like medical, there might be some possibility of using it as a secondary repair and salvage vessel, accepting the reduction in overall capability.
Experimentation and Systems Development; I think it would be taken for granted, that the large open deck, crane, services connectivity and additional accommodation would provide a very good platform for experimentation and systems development, especially emerging unmanned surface vessels and aerial vehicles.
MCM and Survey; whether this example would be of any value in the MCM role is entirely dependent upon the evolution of unmanned off-board systems, likewise for survey. Survey tasks will rely less on unmanned systems for specific tasks but making the assumption that the unmanned revolution arrives, this example could easily carry 6 small unmanned craft like Halycon or ARCIMS. Even with this payload, it has the space for a comprehensive command and control fit, data centre for information processing, basic maintenance facilities, disposal vehicle magazines and communications equipment. Containerised Launch and Recovery Systems (LARS) are also available off the shelf for the current generation of REMUS and Seafox unmanned systems. Other than MCM direct, such a conversion might also provide suitable facilities for the MCM support role.
Ship to Shore Logistics Support; in addition to carrying supplies, vehicles, personnel and engineering plant for port repair, another suitable task would be that of providing a ship to shore fuel transfer capability. With one of the davits for an Army Work Boat or Combat Support Boat, and sufficient deck space for hose drums and the floating pump and manifold of the Joint Operational Fuel System, it could provide a capability we only have in limited capacity now.
Special Forces and Intelligence Support; whether carrying raiding craft, small landing craft, vehicles, personnel or even a swimmer delivery vehicle, the carrying capacity and flexibility afforded by the open deck space would provide obvious utility for special forces. Containerised signals equipment could also be used to provide an additional and innocuous capability for gathering intelligence. Unmanned systems would also be potential carries.
Submarine Rescue; in its bare configuration, it would provide an excellent platform for the NATO Submarine Rescue System.
It may seem counter-intuitive to buy something for a couple of million Pounds and then spend twenty five million on pimping it up, but if it allows us to save millions on buying new, maybe it is not a bad investment. However, if the second hand approach forces too many compromises and is poor value for money, there is still the option to buy a ready-made design and build new.
An example might be the ubiquitous Ulstein PX 121.
The PX 121 is a basic 83m platform supply vessel, but given it has about 30 years of evolution over our second hand example, the latest designs and equipment come as standard. It is about the same dimensions as the UT705 so module capacity and configuration would remain largely unchanged.
If we don’t mind keeping significant design changes to a minimum and going overseas for the build, prices are actually quite low. Recent contracts include a pair for less than $29 million each, about £20 million.
The open deck of an 80m Platform Supply Vessel provides an opportunity to mix and match modules and open space, each layout optimised for the mission. For some roles, it would be entirely unsuited though, and other approaches would be needed. But for many of the others, this example does provide some glimpse into the possibilities.
The main downside I can see with this is their pedestrian speed, top speeds are generally in the 14-15 knot range, far from ideal. Also, the lack of aviation facilities is a big problem for many of the roles.
If we are willing to compromise, again, reinforcing the point that a merchant conversion is a collection of compromises, then this route may well provide a ‘bargain basement’ solution.
Whether it is right for the UK, will, as always, let you argue the details.