The Return of the Auxiliary Mothership

MV Cragside

When you look back there have been a number of notable examples of the auxiliary mothership, or perhaps more accurately, a useful conversion of a civilian vessel to carry out warlike tasks on a temporary or semi permanent basis.

We can argue about the definitions all day long but if you picture the MV Bunga Mas Lima or Atlantic Causeway you would not be far off.

Now the US Department of Defense is getting on the action with something that seems to have passed the blogosphere by, although not Sol, who posted about it at the end of 2011, click here

Either way this bears watching

I would agree but I promptly forgot!

I was reminded of this by a few people recently, H/T Lee and Chuck and we had some great discussions, so interesting that I thought it would be worth writing a short post about it.

In November last year US DoD issued a contract notice, reproduced here in full

Maersk Line Ltd., Norfolk, Va., is being awarded a $73,677,038 firm-fixed-price contract for the time charter of one U.S.-flagged, twin-shaft vessel, which shall function as a maritime support vessel.  This contract includes four 12-month option periods, which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $143,149,058.  Work will be performed at sea worldwide, and is expected to be completed November 2014.  If all options are exercised, work will continue through October 2018.  Working capital contract funds in the amount of $73,677,038 are obligated for fiscal 2014, and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.  This contract was competitively procured with over 200 proposals solicited via a solicitation posted to the Military Sealift Command and Federal Business Opportunities websites, with 13 offers received.  The Military Sealift Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00033-14-C-2015).

There are more details here and here but to summarise;

Military Sealift Command (MSC) requests a U.S. flagged vessel which shall function as a Maritime Support Vessel (MSV). The vessel shall serve host to fifty (50) Sponsor personnel with the ability to surge to an additional one hundred and fifty-seven (157) support personnel, for a total of two hundred and seven (207) Sponsor personnel, within twenty-four (24) hour notice.

The vessel shall support launch, recovery, refueling, and resupply of small crafts, provide organic force protection and perform stowing, transport, launch/recovery, re-fueling of manned and unmanned rotary wing aircraft.

The vessel shall provide equipment stowage, messing, berthing, administrative/operational space, maintenance space, emergency towing, and logistics services in support of operations. The Contractor shall independently operate all deck equipment to include the craft handling/launching systems.

Expanding on selected aspects of the requirements document;

C-3.1 Endurance. The vessel shall maintain sufficient stores onboard to support the crew and fifty (50) Sponsor personnel for a minimum of forty-five (45) days without resupply. Additionally, the vessel shall have sufficient storage capacity to support at-sea operations for the crew and two hundred (200) Sponsor personnel for a minimum of forty-five (45) days without resupply. At a minimum, the vessel shall be able to Fuel At Sea (FAS) using INSTREAM single probe procedures in accordance with Navy Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (NTTP) 4.01-4 (provided upon request) with standard Coalition /USNS logistics ships and be able to support VERTREP for stores and ammunition delivery as required, extending operations for up to forty-five (45) additional days if port visits are not operationally feasible.

C-3.1.2 Minimum Range. 8,000 nautical miles (NM)

C-3.2 Seakeeping/Docking and Station Keeping. The support vessel shall be able to maintain course and speed in storm conditions of 50 knot winds and/or seas of up to 20 foot significant wave height. Vessel must support small craft launch and recovery operations up to and including seas described in Attachment C-3. Alongside refueling operations with small craft shall be conducted in maximum sea conditions described in Attachment C-3. The vessel must be capable of anchoring in water depths for a vessel of its class and size. The vessel will be required to loiter for long periods of time as a re-supply station for small crafts. The vessel shall have the capability to maintain directional stability below two knots.

C-3.3 Minimum Transit Speed. 20 knots sustained for five (5) days (120 hours). The vessel must be able to transit at least 3,000 NM in up to sea state 5.

C-3.6.1 Conference Room. The Contractor shall furnish a dedicated and lockable planning conference room (SCIF capable, built to ICD 705 standards), with a lockable communications storage closet. All power shall include surge protection and automatic switching (ATS) to Un-interrupted Power Source (UPS) for backup

C-3.6.2 Communications/Server Room. The Contractor shall furnish a dedicated, humidity controlled and lockable communications room (SCIF capable, built to ICD 705 standards) with a separate, attached, lockable storage space for communications equipment

C-3.6.4 Workout Rooms. The Contractor shall provide a minimum of 2,600 sq. ft. for a workout room

C-3.6.5 Aircraft Maintenance Planning Space. The Contractor shall provide one room in close proximity to the aircraft hangar that can be used for aircraft maintenance planning. Space shall be sized to support ten (10) personnel

C-3.6.6 Aircraft Maintenance Work Space. The Contractor shall provide a room in close proximity and on the same level as the aircraft hangar that can be used for aircraft maintenance in accordance with NAVAIR

C-3.6.13Medical Space. The Contractor shall provide a medical space where the primary focus shall be support of a surged Surgical Response Team (SRT). The secondary focus shall be support of shipboard medical clinic operations run by an independent duty corpsman or civilian equivalent

C-3.8.1 Equipment Stowage. The Contractor shall provide space to accommodate twelve (12) – 20’L x 8.7’W x8’H containers and six (6) standard 108″L x 88″W ISU boxes with a minimum of 5′ wide walkways between container doors and around the craft. Access to all containers and ISU boxes shall be from the deck level or equivalent internal storage area. The Contractor shall provide power for each ISU and each container in the following circuit sizes and quantities: 110V, 60Hz, 10A and (3) 110V, 60 Hz, 20A

C-3.8.2 Ordnance and Weapons Storage. The Contractor shall provide ordnance and weapons storage equal to the size of twenty-two (22) GFE climate controlled Ready Service Lockers (RSLs), four (4) weapons armories and two (2) ISU 90 weapons cleaning facilities. The exterior dimensions of the RSL are 11’L x 9’W x9’H and 20’L x9’W x9’H. The RSLs shall be secured to the deck with sufficient restraint to accommodate all vessel motions; they must be watertight and protected against corrosion

C-3.11.2 Craft Launch/Recovery Systems. The Contractor shall provide the capability to simultaneously launch and recover four (4) craft up to 12.5m x 3m with a minimum draft of 2m. The launch and recovery system shall be capable of lifting and supporting 30,000 pounds per craft and shall meet the requirements of the ABS Guide for Certification of Lifting Appliances (latest revision), including the requirements for personnel lifting.

There are many more, covering communications, accommodation, FLIR systems, diver support facilities, maintenance spaces, weapon mounts, security cameras and a jet ski launch and recovery facility (no, honestly!)

All good stuff, but what caught our eye was the aviation requirement, apart from the requirement of the workout rooms to four 50″ TV’s!

The flight deck

C-3.14 Flight Deck. The Contractor shall provide helicopter facilities with the ability to simultaneously launch/recover two (2) MH-60 class or one (1) CH-53E class helicopter with clear, unobstructed vertical airspace. Helicopter facilities shall comply with the requirements of US Coast Guard Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular No. 9-81 for day and night landings with instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) for the following aircraft: MH6, AH6, MH47G, MH60K, MH60L, MH60M, UH60L, CH47 D-F, OH58D, AH64 A-D, MV/CV 22, HH60H, HH60J-T, SH60 B-F, MH60R, MH60S, and the MH53E.

The helicopter facilities shall meet the requirements of Aviation Attachment C-4 to achieve a NAVAIR Level I Class 2 certified facility (day and night IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) landing facilities with service but no maintenance facilities) for following aircraft: MH6, AH6, MH47G, MH60K, MH60L, MH60M, UH60L, CH47 D-F, OH58D, AH64 A-D, MV/CV 22, HH60H, HH60J-T, SH60 B-F, MH60R, MH60S, and the MH53E. A recovery assist, securing, and traversing system (RAST) is not required. The flight deck, aircraft parking areas, and hangar deck shall withstand the landing loads and parking loads associated with moderate and storm sea conditions (sea state 5) for all aircraft identified above.

The flight deck shall meet NAVAIR requirements for Level I, Class 4, Special Type 2 vertical replenishment operations (VERTREP) for the H-60 series, CH-53K, H-46, CH-47, and V-22 aircraft.

The Contractor shall provide adequate tie-down locations for an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and all rotary wing aircraft shall be restrained in sea state 5. The flight deck must be reachable by material handling equipment in order to move equipment (5,000 lb pallet) to below deck storage areas. The Contractor shall provide all necessary yellow gear to move equipment and aircraft around the flight deck.

And the hangar

C-3.14.1 Hangar. The Contractor shall provide a hangar facility, capable of being NAVAIR certified, with easy access to the flight deck. Hangar shall be capable of housing two (2) MH-60 class helicopters with main rotor folded, refueling probe installed, and tail rotor unfolded in flyable condition (30’W x 75’L x 26’H), as well as 4 (15′ x 5′) air vehicles, GFE yellow gear, spare parts and space to conduct routine required maintenance. The hangar shall be of sufficient size to accommodate two (2) MH-60 class helicopters. The entire traverse cycle shall be accomplished without disturbing adjacent aircraft stowed and secured in the hangar. The following minimum hangar clearances are required: 12 inches of overhead clearance at the door and 18 inches within the hangar, 24 inches of horizontal side clearance on each side of the aircraft at the door and throughout the traverse cycle, and 27 inches of horizontal clearance all around the aircraft between the deck and a height of 6 ft 8 inches (18 inches above 6 ft 8 inches). The hangar shall be provided with continuous white and NVD overhead lighting. The hangar shall have mooring points for the MH-60 class helicopters, ground handling equipment (to include tow bar) to move aircraft to/from hangar and flight deck or flight deck elevator.

That’s a big flight deck and a pretty big hangar.

When I said the US was getting in on the action that would not be strictly true, I should have said, get back in the action.

This is the first time the US has contracted for a dedicated Maritime Support Vessel (MSV) but has used various vessels in the past in a similar role, especially for special forces support. The 220ft Edison Chouest C-Champion for example. The C-Champion cost the princely sum of $7m to convert and less than $10m per year to run. The feedback was reportedly very good and the C-Champion operated in the role for many years although the lack of aviation facilities was recognised as a shortcoming.

MV C Champion
MV C Champion

The MSV is not a warship, but then it is not meant to be, so the trade-offs in terms of protection and survivability seem entirely reasonable to me. A lot of capability for not a lot of money.

The UK has also dabbled with the concept, even excluding the amazing feats of 1982

The SD Victoria is often seen (or maybe not) with special boats aboard in the Worldwide Support Vessel role

We have also operated the RFA Bay class LSD(A)’s in the mother ship role, supporting the MCM force in the Middle East and elsewhere for example

Largs Bay LSD(A)
Largs Bay LSD(A)

An interesting concept any day of the week, especially given that the US has decided to increase the size, capacity and all round capability of the Maritime Support Vessel (MSV)

What makes it really interesting from a UK perspective is the vessel that Maersk won the contract with.

The MV Cragside, formerly of DFDS

Mmm, does that look familiar

Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft
Flensburger Schiffbau Gesellschaft

Yep, its from the same design family as those operated in the UK’s Strategic RORO Service

Point Class Strategic RORO Hartland Point
Point Class Strategic RORO Hartland Point
Point Class Strategic RORO at Mare Harbour Falkland Islands 02
Point Class Strategic RORO at Mare Harbour Falkland Islands 02

Instead of looking for cost savings by going small as many suggest, perhaps is the answer to the perennial problem of balancing the high end yet scarce capabilities with the numerous low end demands is to ‘go large’

Supersize me!

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