A Ship that is Not a Frigate – Part 4 (Modules and Payloads)


One of the ways in which we can squeeze maximum value from this concept is to embrace payload modularity. The fundamental thought process behind payload modularity is to sever the link between the means of transport (the ship) and things it carries to complete its mission.

Integral to the ship would be accommodation for the permanent crew, power, propulsion and other systems that support getting the ship from A to B. Anything beyond this basic transport will be delivered using payload modules.

A common enabling framework should be designed into the ship, a so-called ‘service keel’

Most of this is already available, power, network, water, compressed air, waste and other services use standardised connectors and form factors. It should simply be a case of plug and play to overuse the term!

This provides a number of benefits

The development path of subsystems and the ship can proceed at a different pace, the utility of the ships can be extended by new systems minimising time-consuming and expensive refits.

Design, build, configuration and trialling of the modules can be completed onshore; rapid prototyping using common and published standards for connectivity will encourage innovation and competition

A virtual ships environment could be constructed onshore for improved training and operational development

So this is why I think payload modularity is so important but I don’t think it is quite ready for the dedicated combat vessel but some of the simpler modules could still be deployed onboard the proposed Type 26 for example.

Modularity can be space inefficient but in the context of this proposal, where the base vessel is large and spacious, it is not such a disadvantage.

One of the main disadvantages of modular payloads is that sod’s law will dictate that they will be fitted for one type of mission and another is required immediately. A more traditional multi-role ship can do a lot of things but arguably not to the same level of a modular design that can afford to concentrate on one role or the other.

It is a difficult criticism to counter but there are valid compromises. A basic modular payload fit can be configured to a baseline that covers most eventualities and additional specialist modules added as the mission dictates. Designing role-specific modules to be air portable can also improve responsiveness although the rapid re-rolling of modular ships can be somewhat illusory and creating a joined-up coherent capability at a level of proficiency sufficient for the task is more than simply loading a handful of ISO containers.

In previous versions of this idea, I looked at the notion of forward basing both the ship and modules and this might still be a valid operational concept. Forward basing and crew rotation can cut down on transit times, although of course, transit voyages are valuable training opportunities. The Royal Navy currently uses a mix of forward deployment and traditional deployments so the concept is not new.

In the next couple of posts, I am going to look at both missions and modules.

There are many more missions and roles that such a ‘blank page’ design could carry out but once again, we should remind ourselves of the title of the post and avoid the temptation of adding too much and making it some sort of cut price frigate.

As we ascend the ‘fightiness’ ladder there may be some opportunity for arming SIMSS but we would have to be very cautious, it’s a very fine line to tread.

The initial design of SIMSS creates the following spaces;

  • Covered deck/garage; 52m long, 8m high, 20m wide
  • Open deck; 25m long, 20m wide (impinged on by the deck crane in places)
  • Aviation deck, 28m long
  • Aviation Hangar; 25m long, 8m high, 20m wide
  • Aviation roof, 23m long, 20m wide, light loads only
  • Boat hangar port and starboard, 30m long, 6m high, 5m wide

Some modules will be simple but others less so and the degree of integration effort should be factored into timescales.

Accommodation and Storage

The simplest modules are merely storage containers and available in standard 20ft or 40ft versions. Offshore rated versions are available that include appropriate fire resistance and lifting eyes and these would generally be the starting point. Given the size of the offshore modular accommodation and storage market, there are a large number of suppliers, no significant integration challenges are obvious.

At maximum density, double stacking containers on both the open and covered deck areas SIMSS can carry about 100 20ft ISO containers or TEU. If needed, the aviation deck could also be used subject to maximum and point load density, an additional 70 could be carried.

It is not likely this configuration would be used but it sets the boundaries for storage only, there might be the occasion when storage only is useful. Similarly, using SIMSS as a vehicle transport and could accommodate approximately 200 lane metres in the covered area.

Basic Storage

Storage containers can be the familiar 20ft steel type, tank containers, flat racks or insulated types.

Living Accommodation and Mission Systems

In the early part of this series, I suggested a ‘service keel’ or connectivity panel could be built into the sidewalls of the main deck area, covered and open, to allow active modules to be powered or have their waste products removed for example. High and low voltage power, greywater, freshwater, sewage, network and compressed air connections will provide a great deal of flexibility.

Again, the offshore market has a multitude of options in both hazardous and non-hazardous area rating (overpressure, gas detection etc) to relevant SOLAS, ISO and DNV standards.

SIMSS has accommodation for 100 personnel against a standard operating crew of less than half that, the balance being for role-specific crew. This should satisfy most needs but additional accommodation units would support missions that are people rather than equipment centric.

A typical 20ft ISO accommodation unit is designed for 4 personnel with a shared shower and toilet. Higher densities would be possible for shorter deployments or if shared toilets and ablutions were acceptable. Modular cabin furniture is available from Strongbox in the UK, also responsible for Type 45 and CVF.

Mess rooms, galleys, waste disposal, office, planning rooms, battery charging, recreation, weapon storage and laundry modules are also readily available from any number of suppliers should the permanently installed facilities aboard SIMSS be of insufficient capacity.

Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS)

Even at the lower spectrum of operations the enormous flexibility and capability enabled by unmanned systems is a real force multiplier (sorry to use that term by the way)

Whatever system eventually adopted by the Royal Navy would likely be compatible with SIMSS but another valuable advantage offered by flexibility and low cost of SIMSS provides space for experimentation and development of doctrine before stepping up to the combat ships like Type 26 and Type 45.

It is depressing to think that the Royal Navy has been so slow to unmanned parties, the reasons are of course largely financial but despite testing a number of systems like the Insitu Scan Eagle several years ago nothing has been introduced into service.

With the large aviation deck and hangar SIMSS could manage a variety of UAVs or RPAS with a modular control cabin in the covered main deck area. This control cabin would be plugged into the digital keel for power and network connectivity for imagery and control. Separate connectivity for various antennas might be needed and it would be interesting to see if different types of UAV’s could exploit the WatchKeeper infrastructure and control systems.

A few interesting and low-cost UAV’s are particularly relevant for the kind of security rather than high-intensity combat operations that might be carried out by SIMSS. These are all available off the shelf with very little development or integration work needed and aren’t the usual suspects of the Fire Scout and Hummingbird.

Boeing/Insitu Scan Eagle

The ScanEagle has an interesting history, initially designed to assist tuna fishing fleets it has evolved into a mature, low cost, flexible and highly effective family of vehicles and payloads. A few months ago it notched up its half million flying hours milestone.

The video below demonstrates just how compact and easy to use the launch and recovery equipment is.

Because of the size of SIMSS, it could quite easily carry and deploy multiple Scan Eagles for wide large area persistence unmatched by other systems. Instead of 1 or 2, why not 10 or 20, for continuous coverage of a large area at distance, swarming and system collaboration technologies have recently been demonstrated that lowers the manpower overhead for operating multiple vehicles.

The ScanEagle has had considerable success in Libya where its performance, endurance and 100% availability was notable. Tests have also demonstrated that ScanEagle can also be used as an airborne radio relay system for ground forces in built-up or mountainous terrain.

To support shipboard operations a heavy fuel engine is available

ScanEagle can be upgraded to NightEagle specification only a few hours and sensors include various electro optical imagers, synthetic aperture radar (SAR), communication relays and signals intelligence systems.

The latest development is the much larger (three times as large as the ScanEagle) Integrator that can accommodate multiple sensors and electronics intelligence payloads although it uses the same launch and recovery mode.

Operating at a high altitude an orbiting vehicle could provide a wide area communications relay to multiple collectors operating at a lower altitude.

Lots of videos on the Insitu YouTube channel

Saab Skeldar

The Saab Skeldar V-200 is the latest version of the Skeldar rotary-wing UAV in both land and maritime variants. Although having a much shorter endurance than the ScanEagle, 5 hours versus 24 hours, the advantages of VTOL and hover in flight are obvious.

Saab has also demonstrated the Skeldar operating from a CB90 which highlights an interesting combination of smaller patrol craft operating at distance from SIMSS and extending their ISTAR reach even further.

Schiebel Camcopter

Similar to Skeldar, the Camcopter S-100 from Scheibel has an hour long endurance than Skeldar and has also been shown armed with a single Lightweight Multirole Missile from Thales. Libya also ordered 4 systems in 2009, wonder where they are now.

Small Craft

The small craft will make a significant contribution to the effectiveness of SIMSS as a system. The base design is extremely well provided for in terms of small craft handling, 2 30mx5m hangars equipped with a heave compensated launch and recovery equipment will allow a mix of craft to be carried and operated in a range of weather conditions.

If a larger number of small craft are needed to carry out a specific mission then the open deck and even covered deck area could be utilised, launched and recovered using the open deck area crane. If the covered deck area were used to store and maintain this small craft they could be manoeuvred into position using design specific cradles. Specific boat designs may also be too large for the hangar and need to be carried on the open deck area.

One of the design compromises with SIMSS is a low top speed which would normally limit its effectiveness in maritime security roles such as piracy or smuggling interdiction but this is countered by using it as a mothership for multiple small craft, UAV’s, USV’s and helicopters whose speed is of course significant.

Workboats and Landing Craft

Simple, rugged workboats can be used for many roles as designs exist. Typically they would be used for diver support, logistics transfer, cable/pipe laying, spill remediation, inshore survey and engineering. Workboats might also be used to support mine countermeasures operations.

The UK is well provided for with workboat designers and manufacturers, Meercat, Alnmaritec, Camarc, South Boats and Lyme Boats to name a few.

The Royal Engineers Combat Support Boat would be a natural choice, the same boat as used in this immortal clip of gunners trying to make an ally video, sappers of course we’re driving the boat, ho ho ho!

Actually, not sure if CSB’s are in production anymore so alternatives might be worth looking at.

A typical 10m workboat is the Alnmaritec ALN076, with a length of 9.2m and breadth of 4m it has a top speed in excess of 25knots.

Keeping within the 5m breadth envelope of the small craft hangar a flat bottomed landing craft could be carried.

Again, the obvious choice would be an in-service craft, LCVP Mk5

As can be seen from the video above, the flat bottom allows small vehicles to be carried but by dispensing with the flat bottom the Finnish Marines have bought into a service a very high-speed landing craft called the M12 Watercat from Marine Alutech

There are also civilian designs that might be equally suitable.

Dipping into the Alnmaritec portfolio again, the ALN017 RAB1 is a flat bottomed aluminium landing craft with a length of 9.1m and a beam of 3.3m. It is also equipped with a hydraulic jib for loading and unloading pallets or small UUV’s for example. With a flat bottom and keel skegs, it can beach or use a slipway, this also allows it to be stored on deck without a cradle.

Meercat make a very interesting product called the RT Workboat, RT stands for road transportable, its unique design allows the boat to be split for road transport. A larger version comes in 3 road transportable sections.

Click here to see transport and assembly

It should be possible to fit SIMSS with Mexeflote launch rails or carry them aboard, on the open deck area.

Inshore surveys at a standoff distance could be carried out by a simple workboat with some of the newer catamaran designs that provide a large work area and stability for ease of operating towed side-scan sonar devices.

Boarding Support, Patrol and Combat Boats

When involved with piracy or smuggling interdiction, maritime security roles or other similar activities SIMSS might substitute workboats for more combat-oriented designs.

Rigid Hulled Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) like the Pacific 22 or Sea Riders currently in service could easily be carried in the small boat hangars, a good range is also available from the UK manufacturer Mustang Marine.

SIMSS could also embark more powerful, better armed and armoured designs.

Currently in service with the Royal Marines are the Holyhead Marine Offshore Raiding Craft in a range of configurations, the Forward Console, Mid Console and Aft Console. They can be fitted with various light weapons and a clip in Dyneema armour kit.

The ubiquitous Combat Boat 90 from Docksta Varvet is currently being trialled by the Royal Marines and a pair of these, in conjunction with a handful of UAV’s and a helicopter, would transform SIMSS into a powerful maritime security system.

The CB90 would fit within the size and weight envelope of the small craft bay so SIMSS could carry two plus a pair of smaller boats without resorting to on deck carriage.

Armed with a remote weapon station and/or manually aimed light weapons, armoured in key locations, air-conditioned/heated and with very high speed the CB90 would be an improvement over the Offshore Raiding Craft in many ways. It can also be fitted with a Hellfire missile fit, providing commonality with the Army’s Apache helicopters.

An alternative might be the Thales LMM or a larger calibre automatic weapon

Docksta Varvet has evolved the basic CB90 platform into a number of variants that are better suited to offshore patrol and interception work.

The Interceptor range starts at 11m and culminates in the 18.7m variant. The datasheet for the 18m variant shows it fitted with a turreted weapon, likely the AMOS mortar system, which would be an interesting weapon against a pirate skiff!

With a crew of up to 6, the IC16M has facilities for a 3 or 4-day mission, a sprint speed of 50knots and a range of weapons including a remote station. It would be well suited to operating at range from SIMSS with it acting as a mothership for a number of interceptors.

The Very Slender Vessel could also be carried and a couple of large 18m plus patrol boats on the open deck area.


An alternative or complement to conventional small craft, the hovercraft is extremely well suited to littoral environments. The latest in service variant is the Griffon Hoverwork 2400TDand 2 could be carried on the open deck area. Because they have a small non-hovering height, a number could also be carried in the covered deck area.

Although there are no other variants in service with the UK now, the full range might provide a number of interesting combinations for combat and non-combat operations.

Griffon has made a good video overview of how they work here

Mines Countermeasures and Survey

It must be said the Royal Navy has a robust mine countermeasures capability and contributes to counter IED efforts as well. However, things do not stand still and the Future Mine Countermeasures/Hydrographic/Patrol Vessel (FMHPV) has matured in the MHPV I mentioned above. This programme will define a replacement for the existing Hunt and Sandown specialist vessels, some of the hydrographic vessels and the patrol vessels.

The project will look at the delivered effect and not be platform-centric, so instead of creating a specialist vessel to carry out the task it will look at a number of means of delivery, not necessarily a dedicated vessel.

Mines represent the most likely method that will be employed to deny access to critical chokepoints and littoral environments. They are very difficult to counter and relatively cheap, a classic asymmetric weapon.

The IED of the maritime environment

The general theme of combining patrol, hydrography and MCM has been in circulation for some time, culminating in the C3 concept. Many people have proposed a well-armed vessel that is more patrol and less survey/MCM with resultant designs using a mission bay and modular equipment to fulfil these latter requirements. The problem with this is that if it looks like a warship, the Treasury will question the value of the C2 and ask some uncomfortable questions hence the RN dropping the C3 title and proposing anything that doesn’t look too fighty!

I also think that using a small frigate/large OPV design also misses the opportunity to really add capacity, the number of MCM specialists and amount of mission equipment they would be able to carry would not provide much of uplift over the traditional dedicated vessels, hence the configuration of SIMSS.

There is also a great deal of expertise in mine countermeasures in other European naval forces, the legacy of two major conflicts means that even today, sea mines in European waters remain a very real threat to shipping and sailors.

Current plans seem to point to a single class of vessel about 100m in length and between 2,000 and 2,500 tonnes displacement. These will deliver on the MCM, survey and patrol requirements using a range of off-board systems like USV’s, UAVs and UUV’s. This concept recognises the synergies between survey and mines countermeasures and the desirability of unmanned systems. The RN is not alone in moving in this general direction, many nations are travelling the same road; the US Navy, Royal Australian Navy and French Navy (Système de Lutte Anti-Mines – Futur (SLAM-F)) all have similar projects and with the recent Anglo-French defence cooperation treaty it is likely that a joint project of some sorts will emerge. France is the lead in an eleven nation European Defence Agency project on Maritime Mine Countermeasures; perhaps a consensus could be reached to harness the undoubted collective expertise in this area within European nations. The emergent specification for the afloat component would seem to fit neatly around the Spanish BAM design.

The survey mission is vitally important to submarine operations as well as general navigation and a nice sideline in selling Admiralty Charts!

The 13,500 tonne HMS Scott is built around a very large, multi-beam sonar, for deep-ocean surveys and I wonder if this role is ready to be replaced with UUV’s just yet.

The project is therefore seeking to replace the Hunt, Sandown, Echo and River, classes.

SIMSS fits entirely within the general direction of MHPV but self-evidently takes a different view in other areas.

Emerging Trends

With the rapid advance in unmanned underwater vehicle technology, the need for dedicated and specialist vessels is diminishing, it is a trend that is being seen across all spectrums of defence, separating the useful bits from the means of their transport.

Much of the research and technology is dual military and civilian use, the increasing search for and exploitation of underwater natural resources is driving the need for novel technologies such as synthetic aperture sonar which offers a number of benefits over traditional side-scan sonar.

This crossover between survey and mine detection presents obvious opportunities and the synergy between the military survey and mine countermeasures capabilities have been recognised for some time. Mine jamming, co-operating autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV) and laser bathymetry are also starting to mature.

Classification of mines, once detected, can be a time-consuming process.

A significant problem is that of false target detection. The sea bed environment of any large port is likely to be cluttered with all manner of debris and this dramatically increases the false target rate. This problem was encountered in clearance operations around Umm Qasr where only the superhuman efforts of UK, US and Australian teams managed to work through the problem.

Research on the automated classification of threats continues to improve false target discrimination rates and speed the process up significantly but this might need a serious uplift in computing power and some very clever software to resolve.

A wily enemy would exploit this classification slowness to slow down amphibious operations for example, by liberally seeding the sea bed with dummies.

Once detected and classified the device has to be destroyed and this is still largely carried out by clearance divers. Although there are guided systems these are expendable or one shot and very expensive. Stocks would be rapidly depleted, especially against dummy devices, so there is a great deal of effort to find autonomous stand-off systems that can deal with multiple devices and reduce human intervention.

The traditional approach of picking an amphibious landing location, surveying and clearing boat lanes to shore is being replaced with Rapid Environment Assessment where the whole point is to land where mines aren’t and wherever possible, where enemy forces aren’t either. Autonomous underwater vehicles (possibly launched from submarines or larger unmanned underwater vehicles) can covertly generate a rapid obstacle and underwater topography picture. Classification, neutralisation or the mapping of safe lanes may take place, or another location might be selected. This is an environment where survey and MCM are obviously one and the same.

It is a sector of rapid technological change.

The current fleet consists of the Sandown-class (single role mine hunting) with the variable-depth multi-mode 2093, and the Hunt-class (sweeping and mine hunting) fitted with the hull-mounted 2193. Supporting NATO operations, amphibious operations, securing Sea Lines of Communication, providing harbour defence and clearing legacy munitions the current fleet (even accepting recent minor small reductions) is highly effective.

Recent introductions include the Hydroid (now Kongsberg) Remus 100, Remus 600 and Atlas Elektronic Seafox C unmanned systems. The Hydroid systems support detection and classification whilst the Seafox C is a compact disposable one-shot neutralisation UUV. Ultra Electronics delivered the Seafox system in partnership with Babcock for the Royal Navy. Seafox was instrumental in the clearance operations for Operation Telic around Umm Qasr and recently hit the headlines off Libya.

Another UOR was the Shallow Water Influence Minesweeping System (SWIMS) designed to operate in the small rivers and waterways in the south of Iraq. SWIMS consists of a towed magnetic and acoustic source, a tow/power delivery cable, a power conditioning and control subsystem, and an external or palletised power supply. Its small size and reduced weight require minimum handling equipment, and it is deployable from a helicopter or surface craft by two personnel. Click here to read more about SWIMS.

12 QinetiQ modified remote-controlled Combat Support Boats (CSB) were also used to tow Australian Defence Industries (ADI) Mini Dyad System (MDS) and Pipe Noise Makers (PNMs) ahead of the RN minehunters as part of the SWIMS payload. It is worth noting that the system demonstrator was available within 3 weeks of order placement, a truly remarkable feat.

There is a good account of mine countermeasures and survey operations, including information on SWIMS and Seafox, in Iraq here, here and here.


It is difficult to say anything sensible about systems because the pace of change is amazing. The emerging research trends point to the removal of manpower from high threat locations, greater autonomy and high capacity data processing to support rapid environmental assessments to be made.

Diver detection, ship/installation inspection and harbour/installation protection would also be a sensible inclusion. It is an area that needs greater emphasis an attack against offshore installations and harbours would have a significant impact on the UK.

The RN has recently selected Atlas Elektronic to develop components of the next-generation deployable systems and there is a wide variety of other systems to choose from.

The US Littoral Combat Ship modules have had rather a chequered history but the MCM module seems to be the diamond in the rough, although a number of its component parts are some way from maturity.

Given the rapid fielding of SWIMS and the availability of rapidly maturing off the shelf systems from a variety of manufacturers including Kongsberg, Atlas Elektronic, Saab and Kokums we can utilise the diverse market to our advantage.

The diagram below shows the modular and containerized approach of Atlas Elektronik.

The future is clearly modular and remotely operated or autonomous systems and these are ideally suited to space and flexibility offered by SIMSS. It is split into two components, mine hunting and mine sweeping.

The mine hunting system uses a combination of the Sea Otter autonomous underwater vehicle for detection and classification and the Sea Fox C for disposal.

The small SeaFox C can be launched using lightweight equipment but the larger Sea Otter will require a more capable system. The Kongsberg Remus systems come with a containerised Launch and Recovery system but again, the offshore market has many suppliers of launch and recovery systems that can launch tethered or autonomous systems from the aft or sides of the ship.

If an area needs to be swept the concept uses the Kockums Self Propelled Acoustic Magnetic Sweep system or SAMS.

Multiple vehicles can also be used to simulate the signature of large vessels. One of the unique features of SAM3 is its ability to be broken down into 40ft ISO container-sized loads and assembled in a theatre. With the cranes and storage space of SIMSS there is no reason why 4 or 6 SAM3 systems could not be carried aboard and assembled on the open deck area, launched using the deck crane, operated from a containerised control cabin, recovered using the same crane, packed and stored away.

This is an impressive system and when deployed in multiples can rapidly clear large areas or reduce risk for entry. It can also be used to reduce the number of devices so that the more sophisticated detection and disposal activities can proceed at a quicker pace.

The two systems are complementary.

The survey ship fleet has often been used in the MCM Support capacity providing logistic support, personnel facilities, planning and command spaces but SIMSS could combine these roles with that of the MCM vessel.

Diver support systems might include storage, recompression chambers and gas storage.

The UK company DIVEX are the acknowledged world leader in professional and military dive systems and they produce a range containerised dive support systems.

Shallow water survey could be carried out by embarked workboats fitted with lightweight towed or autonomous multibeam sonar systems, Kongsberg makes a full range for example.

When looking at deep ocean hydrographic survey a problem arises because the transducer size means deployable systems are not used, they can be very large. This goes against the modular nature of SIMSS because one cannot easily fit these hull-mounted transmitter and receiver pairs. Perhaps a compromise solution would be to fit the transducers but implement the processing equipment as a module.

For a good background on the various types of hydrographic survey, equipment click here

Data Processing and Storage

In many operations the ability to store and process data is vital. Whether that is using a Geographic Information System (GIS) to plan a disaster response engineering project or storing and analysing information from a network of underwater sensors the basic data processing requirements remain. Leveraging the products offered from Sun Microsystems, Cisco, SmartCube and Hewlett Packard it will be simple to create a standard data centre processing and storage container.

With real-time monitoring enabled by backhaul communication, system status and configuration can be maintained by MoD civilian employees onshore.

Servers, storage, networks, Layer 4-7 switching devices and security can be integrated into a single deployable data centre in a box. Data centres consume a great deal of power for the equipment and cooling so in some environments the heat exhaust requirements may be difficult to vent if it is carried internally, these are typical integration challenges but not insurmountable.

Each container would be equipped with integral cooling, fire detection, fire suppression and UPS systems. When aboard, it would plug into the service backbone for network and power connectivity but additional benefits would be obtained by the ability to ship the module onshore.

A typical 20 foot ISO container-sized system can house up to 14 racks, each rack 50u high. Rack servers can be as small as 1u high. Even if this capacity is reduced by fire suppression or UPS’s, capacity would still be significant.

Weapons and Countermeasures (Modular)

To labour the point, SIMSS is not a frigate and derives its value largely from off-board systems and will therefore as standard, only be armed with lightweight automatic weapons on pintle mounts.

If it needs protection we might argue it is either in the wrong place or will be being looked after by its bigger brothers, the Type 45 and Type 26.

Putting a higher level of firepower onto SIMSS might also lead to the temptation of putting it in harms way where it is neither adequately built, protected or armed to be. However, there are a number of ‘grey areas’ where this very hard distinction between combat and combat support might be blurred somewhat and the space and flexibility of the basic design exploited for more combat orientated roles.

Protection – Soft Kill

When operating in a higher threat environment, even in a protective bubble provided by others, it might be wise to improve self-defence capabilities.

For vessels likes SIMSS the most cost-effective means of defence is probably countermeasures rather than weapons and there are many militaries off shelf systems from Rheinmetall and Terma. The most common is the SeaGnat decoy system which uses what might be described as a mortar to fire a range of IR, Chaff and Active Decoy rounds to confuse and seduce incoming missiles.

Chemring manufactures the NATO Standard Chaff round but also produce a newer range of slightly larger rounds including IR and RFrounds. To support increasingly larger decoy payloads they have also created an oversize round that still uses the 130mm form factor called the Large Payload Carrier. Type 23 frigates also use the BAe SIREN

Instead of using the traditional fixed tube launchers Chemring have recently developed the Centurion trainable launcher. It can carry 12 130mm rounds and its trainable launcher can compensate for SIMSS lack of speed and rapid manoeuvrability which is important when using fixed launch tubes.

It should be possible to fit a pair of Centurion launch systems, perhaps on the hangar and bridge roof to provide 360-degree coverage.

The Airborne Systems IDS300inflatable RF decoy as fitted to Type 45 Destroyers could also be fitted, these are low-cost systems that provide a great deal of protection although the underlying combat management system and sensors will of course add to the cost.

Protection against torpedoes is a large challenge but Ultra Sonar have a solution in the S2170 Sea Sentor Surface Ship Torpedo Defence System which comprises an acoustic passive towed array, towed acoustic countermeasure, single-drum winch, processing cabinet, display consoles, 2 expendable acoustic device launchers and 16 expendable acoustic devices.

It is an impressive system but no doubt expensive, could it be justified for SIMSS?

Perhaps not in every vessel but depending on the roles and threat environment the protection increase could include this.

Protection – Hard Kill

Beyond the manually aimed automatic weapons, a modest upgrade path might include deck mounted remotely aimed medium calibre weapons like the MSI 30mm systems currently fitted to many RN vessels.

MSI Defence has also developed the SIGMA which is a remote-controlled system that mounts a 30mm ATK Bushmaster cannon and a 7 cell launcher for the Thales Lightweight Multirole Missile. It is a compact, relatively low cost mount, already in service (in its basic form without missiles) with the Royal Navy and appropriate in terms of firepower.

There are other 30-40mm weapons to choose from, for commonality reasons perhaps the ATK M230LF which is a link feed version of the M230 used on the AH1 Apache helicopter, 40mm CTA weapon that is due to enter service with the Army in the FRES Scout or even the 27mm Rheinmetall cannon used on the Typhoon could be used (plenty available now with the reduction in Tornado fleet)

Thales has recently started marketing the Gun Missile System which combines the 40mm CTA cannon from FRES SV Scout with a 6 pack launcher for Starstreak.

These are interesting combinations that are appropriate, relatively low cost and provide a sensible level of self-protection UAVs,s small craft and aircraft.

The hangar roof or bridge wing positions could be fitted with lightweight non-deck penetrating systems such as these to improve firepower.

Offensive Systems

I have deliberately left this section rather sparse because I am not sure what systems could be realistically mounted or employed other than those described. Perhaps a containerised land attack missile or FireShadow Loitering Missile could provide a modicum or indirect fire support for an embarked force.

Anyone else has any ideas?

Engineering Support

RFA Diligence currently provides engineering support to the Royal Navy and she is a converted offshore support vessel so the obvious question arises.

Could a suitably fitted SIMSS provide the same level of engineering support?

Because SIMSS does not have the same capacity deck crane and a much smaller open deck area the answer would be, maybe. The covered deck area could accommodate very capable engineering stores and workshop systems but a specific engineering variant of SIMSS might be created with no aviation hangar, a smaller covered area, larger open deck, larger crane and a bridge-mounted helicopter landing deck.

This would be much closer to the Ulstein SX121 base design than SIMSS but there would still be a high level of commonality.

This variant could also carry a number of work class ROV such as those from Seabotix or SMD for inspection and repair of damaged ships and port facilities.

The standard SIMSS might still provide a decent level of engineering support though, depending on personnel and equipment carried.


One look at a couple of RAS brochures from Rolls Royce, here and here, will show the limitations of modular systems, these are significant and complex items of machinery that cannot simply be bolted on.

Although SIMSS cannot be thought of as an underway replenishment vessel it may be able to support groups of other SIMSS or flotilla of small craft by using tank containers and palletised stores, transferred by crane or small workboats.

A workboat could also act as a mini refueller using a containerised combined tank and pump. These systems exist, EPS and Fesmi being notable manufacturers of equipment already in service with various parts of the MoD.

NATO Submarine Rescue System

The NATO Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) is co-owned by the UK, France and Norway which can rapidly deploy to rescue the crew of a stricken submarine. Its operating concept is very simple, the intervention ROV is flown out and operated from almost any ship to establish initial context and carry out a situation assessment. If rescue is viable the larger rescue vessel and portable launch and recovery system is flown out and mated with a suitable vessel, such as an offshore supply or engineering ship. All components are air portable by C17 or A400 and road portable.

Whilst it is unlike SIMSS would be allocated a permanent role with NSRS it would make sense to use it if one were in the area, it being equipped with the necessary spaces and handling equipment.

NSRS comprises a number of components, all based at HMNB Clyde, provided by Rolls Royce in partnership with Perry Slingsby, Kongsberg, EBC, Babcock, Divex and Lloyds Register

Intervention ROV

The first component is a remotely-operated vehicle that can be used to locate a submarine in trouble, clear debris from the vessel and deliver life-saving pods full of food, water and oxygen through the escape hatch.

The baseline response time for the intervention ROV is 56 hours based on a 6-hour notice to move from receipt of the DISUB notification.

Supplied by Perry Slingsby, the Triton SP ROV is a standard intervention class ROV in widespread use.

Portable Launch and Recovery System (PLARS)

This is an ingenious system that can be broken down into lightweight air portable sections and assembled on board a suitable vessel, ready to launch and recover the rescue submersible in Sea State 6

Designed and built by IHC in Northumberland the 100-tonne PLARS has a working load rating of 30 tonnes and is fitted with active heave compensation which allows the rescue submersible to be recovered without swimmers. It is air portable by 7x 40 foot ISO container-sized loads and when assembled allows the submersible to be docked with the transfer under pressure module that provides personnel a pressurised route to a decompression chamber.

It’s very clever stuff!

Submersible Rescue Vehicle

Christened ‘Nemo’ by the pilots who operate her, the SRV is a manned vessel that can dive to depths of up to 610 metres and evacuate up to 15 people at a time.

It is equipped with the latest Zebra batteries and can mate with the distressed submarine at angles up to 60 degrees. Weighing in at 27 tonnes it has a crew of 3 and is targeted at a first rescue of 72 hours from notification and is also supplied by Perry Slingsby

Transfer Under Pressure

The TUP(Transfer Under Pressure) system is a portable decompression and medical support unit that can take up to 68 people

Humanitarian Support

In support of various soft power initiatives, be that disaster response or planned humanitarian support SIMSS has a key part to play.

Medical Support

One of the greatest gifts we can give to people in developing nations or those afflicted by natural disasters is medical assistance. Whether it is for emergency life-saving intervention or elective but life-changing operations for conditions such as cataracts, cleft palates or obstetric fistula, the effect is far-reaching.

One of the operating experiences of the US hospital ships is that their deep draught prevents them from operating at many locations which results in a need for expensive helicopters or slow surface transport of patients. SIMSS is far from a shallow draught vessel but its ability to carry small craft like workboats, landing craft and mexeflotes means it can either transfer patients to the ship or move the medical facilities off-board and onto land.

Either working aboard or detached and transported to shore/inland the medical facilities should be fully containerised. There is some loss of space efficiency but the flexibility afforded by a transportable facility provides many more deployment options and ultimately a greater reach.

A modular medical capability may be split between multiple locations or combined and different treatment facilities also increase flexibility. A simple first-line medical container for example could be transferred to shore and driven to the site or carried on a landing craft to enable access to isolated coastal or riverine communities.

The medical capacity has to be modest and/or complimentary because a visit may have a destabilising impact on local healthcare providers or burden it with extensive post-operative obligations. In addition, the medical teams can coordinate visits with local providers and the system as a whole could be used not only to provide treatment but also to teach and develop local capacity.

Container-based systems also allow them to be transported inland, either on local civilian trucks or even those carried onboard SIMSS.

There are plenty of containerised hospital/clinic facilities manufacturers and we already use many individual components, again, this should not be a significant integration challenge.

Surgery units, dispensaries, storage, preparation and treatment rooms can all be used and combined with local materials, labour and expertise. There is an interesting US charity called Containers2Cinics which is extending this concept and it might be possible to create multi-agency relations with the non-governmental sector, SIMSS provides the transport and logistics infrastructure, others provide the facilities and staff.

Traditional tented field hospitals are also another option


In the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, there was a great deal of reporting about how potable water was being provided by USN ships and helicoptered in. Great in theory, but incredibly inefficient, as recognised by everyone involved, needs must though. The Red Cross also flew in 2 million litres of water.

SIMSS will have a desalination and water generation plant on board but whilst this might provide some relief in certain situations it is generally speaking, not the answer.

Water purification from existing standing and running water sources and either bulk or bottled distribution can take place closer to those that need it, instead of transporting water huge distances we can generate it close to the point of use.

Water purification is a core competence of the Royal Engineers and their skills and equipment can be exploited as necessary.

Delivering bottled water in the very early stages of an acute phase response is sensible because of obvious need, portability, ease of distribution to dispersed areas and the ease of transport but as the response progresses the empty bottle and the need to move filled bottles becomes an issue., the tyranny of distance and helicopter availability works against volume distribution. How many containers could a first response vessel reasonably be expected to carry, what happens when they run out and other questions also spring to mind.

The problem of emergency water supply attracts a wide range of solutions from an even more wide range of providers, everything from ‘life straws’ to floating desalination barges, high capacity ashore pumping equipment and flexible containers or bladders are available so there are certainly other ways but are they feasible for a first response, within 2 to 3 weeks?

A possible solution is the humble and ubiquitous ISO container combined with desalination or purification plant and bottling/pouching equipment.

Untreated water can come from a variety of sources; offshore, beaches, watercourses, standing water features or boreholes. Each requires a different approach to purification, seawater, for example, requires desalination but if it is obtained from the nearshore it may be contaminated or brackish, standing water will likely require extensive pre-filtering and in urban areas, the presence of pollutants from damaged petrochemical or industrial facilities may be a significant issue.

However, equipment exists to address all these issues, this is not a technology issue. The desalination plant, filtration equipment, pumps, bottling equipment and generators can be combined with standard-sized ISO containers to create self-contained solutions

Rather than transporting water, transport the means to create it, collapsing the supply chain.

A modular system comprising fuel storage, pumping, filtration, desalination, pouching/bottling and storage equipment could be carried by a wide variety of ships or aircraft and rapidly deployed. SIMSS might carry a range of trailer and containerised systems.

A number of suppliers produce containerised integrated desalination/filtration plant, ContenO of Belgium offer a range of 20 or 40 foot ISO units that incorporate power generation, compressed air production, water treatment, UV treatment, bottle production, filling and labelling.

A single self-contained 20 foot ISO container ‘mini factory’ can produce 36,000 litres per day and the 40 foot version, 120,000 litres. The 20ft version is easier to handle and transport so would probably be the optimal solution and has been approved by the US DoD but the 40 foot version is attractive because of its high output volume.

The US technology provider Aqua Technology also provide a range of solutions for portable water generation and packaging but rather than bottling, use a bagging system.

Worldwater and Solar Technologies in the USA make a number of transportable systems that utilise solar energy instead of diesel generators, in areas with sufficient sunlight this can reduce the logistics footprint considerably and even export excess power to run anything that might be considered useful and electrical!

A number of systems have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan with US Forces already and will no doubt already be in or on their way to Haiti. This is an important technology and could usefully be combined with the packaging systems detailed later in this post.

In addition to water, additives can be inserted into the production line to produce balanced fluid products or high-calorie energy drinks.

Once the water has been purified there are a number of options for packaging.

A typical 5-litre bottle would incorporate an integral carrying handle which is an important consideration when recipients may need to walk some distance from the distribution point, plastic bottles are also robust.

Empty PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) water bottles present a significant storage and transportation problem, space is limited aboard ships and aircraft and anything transported to the site will need fuel, equipment and personnel. The ContenO system gets around this issue by incorporating a bottle production system that blows common PET Preforms into bottles. Preforms are widely available and more compact than full-size bottles but would still need to be transported to the site, the preform is a fraction of the size of the full-size bottle but is still relatively bulky.

High-Density Polythene (HDPE) uses pelletised resin rather than preforms so would be much more space-efficient if a blow moulding machine could be containerised.

The packaging industry has a number of innovative products that might be utilised to reduce consumable volume.

Flexible plastic bags can be filled and sealed in situ, rather than preforms this system uses rolls of plastic and as can be appreciated is much more space-efficient. Recipients gain access to the water by tearing the bag or using straws but they are relatively fragile and prone to damage although aluminium foil bags may improve robustness. Cardboard boxes and further manual handling would likely be needed.

Preprinted pouches, made with stiffer materials, with an integral resealable drinking spout could be used.

The external surface could be printed with survival instructions, locations of distribution points, emergency broadcast radio frequencies and other useful information although some of this would need to be overprinted in situ. These occupy more space than bags (in an unfilled state) but are still more space-efficient PET preforms.

Rapak and Scholl are global leaders in packaging solutions and their familiar ‘wine box’ may be a practical addition to the packaging mix.  Scholl has an integrated solution called the JerriBox (no sniggering at the back) and again, pre-printing could be used to disseminate relevant information.

Transport away from the distribution point is an important consideration, individuals may be weak or injured so there is a practical limit to the packaging size before mechanical assistance is needed. PET bottles can have integral carrying handles and simple shoulder fabric bags or straps could be used.

Bottling, bagging pouching or boxing may not be required in all situations so bulk storage and distribution would need to include in any integrated system.

It is likely that local non-specialist transportation and material handling equipment will be available for use, basic flatbed trucks and forklifts can greatly assist the distribution and utilising local labour also has many benefits. Space efficient solutions include flexible bladders and tanks.

Butyl Products supply many military and civilian organisations with flexible tanks and storage bladders and there are hundreds of similar manufacturers.

ISO container tanks can be quickly deployed and redeployed using DROPS or EPLS type vehicles although empty, they are very space inefficient.

Water bowsers may be found in the area and could be used also.

A bladder tank could be filled directly whilst loaded onto a flatbed truck and water dispensed from there with a simple tap stand, no pumping at the dispensing point would be needed, gravity would do the job.

If forklift trucks are available then IBC containers become a very practical option. Again, extracting suitable products from the civilian packaging and transportation market allows the prevalent civilian infrastructure to be used.

A sample of manufacturers includes Rapak, Bulk Handling Australia, Fluid Bag, Greiff and Arlington Packaging but what characterises them is a common need for space and cost efficiency, exactly what is needed in this application.

Apart from the obvious requirement of flexibility and purity, any system must be able to utilise host nation personnel and equipment and has to be as labour and space-efficient as possible.

A 3x 20 foot ISO container system would incorporate a purification/bottling/bagging plant, initial consumables stock, fuel, pumps, hoses and sundry supplies such as cardboard boxes, packing equipment, spares and basic maintenance tools.

Manpower requirements would be modest in comparison with other methods.

Moving bottled water from the bottling location may still need helicopters to get it to remote locations but putting something like these in a place closer to recipients is a much more efficient use of resources than ferrying by helicopter, manually filled containers from ships moored offshore

There is no doubt that water treatment and supply is a core mission requirement for all armed forces, usually carried out by combat engineering units such as the UK’s Royal Engineers but these are generally geared up for supplying their own national forces.

Moving beyond the acute phase of a response it is likely that these solutions would be supplemented and/or replaced with NGO delivered systems and the restoration of fixed infrastructure but a huge variety of solutions exist so it is a reasonable expectation that if disaster relief is a core mission of any nations armed forces then water supply to disaster areas must be included within the equipment and capability matrix.

Learning from the civilian packaging and transportation sector should be high on the ‘things to do’ list because there are undoubted synergies to be exploited.

I have concentrated on a couple of specific manufacturers but there are many others including Hatenboer, Global Water, Futuretech and Trunz Water to name but a few. Trunz also makes a range of solar-powered systems.


Power is such vital support to any disaster acute phase response and whilst SIMSS could export some power whilst moored the geographic limitations are obvious.

Using trailer-mounted or containerised generation, coupled with a fuel supply and appropriate operator resource would be a simple task to fulfil.


Displaced people need shelter and if the weather is very hot or very cold the need becomes acute.  Generally speaking, the need is for temporary shelter where local labour is used for construction or erection.

Tents are of course the obvious and most likely answer because they are very space-efficient and take little or no skilled labour to deploy.

Shelter Box is a British charity that has pioneered a unique concept, combining shelter and immediate relief supplies in a simple plastic box.

Have a look at their YouTube channel here

More substantial shelters can be created using Concrete Canvas and Hesco Bastion R House.

SIMSS could carry the shelter equipment, mobile plant, materials and engineers.


The ability to coordinate and communicate between multiple responders is vital for any disaster response and this is an area often overlooked. In most post-disaster locations there will already be a communications infrastructure in place so providing repair skills augmentation and component level spares might be the most sensible approach.

In the acute phase of the response, before existing infrastructure can be repaired, a fully independent system communications capability will be vital.

Containerised or trailer mounted GSM, TETRA and TETRAPOL bases stations are relatively commonplace and can be easily installed.

An interesting alternative to a container or trailer-based transmitter and receiver system is an aerostat that raises the active equipment to a height of several hundred metres with the associated increase in coverage.

In addition to the systems available that concentrate on remote surveillance Allsop Helikite makes an interesting kite/aerostat combination that can be operated in severe weather.

A recent trial saw a Helikite loft an ITT Spearnetcommunications payload to create an ad hoc radio network to a ground radius of 6 miles. Other trials using higher altitudes have demonstrated packet radio coverage to over 60 miles.

SIMSS has the space to carry multiple systems and the people to set up and maintain them.

Comments on the Part 5 post so they are all in one place

PART 1 – Introduction

PART 2 – Roles and Requirements

PART 3 – Design Discussion

PART 4 – Modules and Payloads

PART 5 – Operational Concepts