Whatever Happened to MHPC?

Royal Navy Maritime Hydrographic and Patrol Capability Programme update

MHPC, or Maritime Hydrographic and Patrol Capability Programme, was a Royal Navy programme from early 2010 that had evolved from the previous ‘C3’ designation in a previous programme.

It was envisaged as a ship between 2,500 tonnes and 3,000 tonnes displacement that would replace the current fleet of patrol, mine countermeasures and some of the survey vessels.

A number of commenters seemed to think this would evolve into a ‘light frigate’ type design, the BMT Venator being a hot favourite.

With the advances in unmanned MCM and industrial issues surrounding the latest RN Offshore Patrol Vessels the P was dropped a short while ago and a recent FOI response confirmed the particulars.

The Mine countermeasures, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability Programme (MHPC) has now been renamed the Mine countermeasures and Hydrographic Capability (MHC). The  name was changed following the announcement of the Maritime Composite Option (MCO)  deal between MoD and BAE on 6 November 2013, which included the purchase of 3 new  Offshore Patrol Vessels and therefore delivered the ‘Patrol’ solution.

Work undertaken during the Concept Phase produced compelling evidence that unmanned,  off-board systems (OBS), deployed from low-value steel ships, or from ashore, could deliver  most elements of the capability. However, a solution based on like-for-like replacement of the current, low-signature Mine Countermeasures Vessels (MCMVs) and Survey Vessels (SVHOs) cannot yet be discounted.

The Programme passed ‘Initial Gate’ in July 2014 and was approved to proceed to the Assessment Phase with the associated funding. MHC has been designed as a transformational and incremental programme that will update and subsequently replace the  full existing MCM and Hydrographic capabilities to provide assured maritime freedom of manoeuvre, delivering minehunting, minesweeping and hydrographic mission systems (including remote controlled OBS) to legacy and future platforms.

Marine OBS are widely used in the commercial sector, but are not yet fully proven for naval operations. The Assessment Phase will aim to reduce the risks associated with the naval use of OBS and determine the cost-effectiveness through:

  • Three advanced technology demonstrators.
  • A controlled trials programme.
  • Technical studies and programme analysis.

The Assessment Phase is now underway, albeit in its early stages.

So there you go.


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February 4, 2015 10:10 am

The RNZN has a project called “Littoral Operations Support Capability” – a hybrid replacement of hydrographic, diving support and MCM assets. Unsurprisingly, BMT is one of the shortlisted proposals (as are Damen, Hyundei, Fincantiere, Navantia, Lockheed Martin and BAE).

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 4, 2015 10:11 am

The patrol element was always an add on as it didn’t really require any complex systems and is more closely related to the vessel that is chosen than how you operate as a navy. MHPC/MHC isn’t going to produce a ship it is going to produce systems and a concept of how the RN would like to use the systems. This could then lead to one or more projects to produce new ships at a later date, it is during these projects that they will decide whether they want to add on a flight deck and small boats to create a ship that can be used for patrol duties. All up it is really still early days in this project and they will have to figure out what they want to be able to do, how they can do it and then on what platform to base it.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 4, 2015 10:59 am

What Tom said, plus the main thrust at this point (and for the next five years) is going to be trying to get the offboard systems piece to work. Once they’ve been demonstrated to be feasible, then people will start thinking about how to deploy them. The IPT only got funding to fill its staff posts last summer.

As alluded to in the FoI, if you can’t get offboards to work operationally, then you may have to procure new tupperwares. At the other extreme, the IPTL has also got to consider an asset-lite option where we buy and operate loads of offboard systems and use STUFT / COO to deploy them. Not entirely convinced with that myself, suspect the answer lies somewhere between.

One thing is sure. There will be no ship build effort till the late 20s. Any decision on deployment / platform options will not come until the turn of the decade. So your Black Swans and your light frigates are not an imminent prospect.

The Other Chris
February 4, 2015 11:13 am

Suspect we’ll need to get used to seeing a lot of offboards operating from Hunts, Sandowns, Rivers and Auxiliaries in particular (we’d more expect deployment from T23/T45/QEC/etc without complaint) over the next decade as the operational side of the kit is worked out and the concept(s) properly fleshed.

Always read Black Swan as a conceptual case study with similarities/crossovers to what’s being described here in the FoI and Comments, rather than an actual ship/class proposal.

shark bait
shark bait
February 4, 2015 11:21 am

BMT Venator, Future black swan concept, even a modified khareef could fulfil the requirement in my opinion. What is needed is a cheap lump of metal with a big ass mission bay and flight deck. It can only be flexible if it has the space to be flexible. The ship its self wont be very capable but get all its capability from its unmanned systems.

Dropping the patrol element seems odd. I would suggest selling off all the rivers and replace them with ship with a hanger making it many times more useful. There is the the option for one class of ship to replace the rivers, hunts, sandows and echos. That looks like some ruthless commonality to me, something which will make the force more efficient, flexible, effective and (insert other buzzwords here).
I think there would be some significant savings using a common platform at the same time getting a massive bump in capability.

What needs to be avoided is the gold plating that tends to happen, the ships need to be as cheap and basic as possible. Requirements should be set low and loose to allow a big international, industrial led competition. One of the main decision factors will likely be operational costs, the intention is for a highly automated ship with minimal crew (black swan suggested 8!). That way we could see like for like replacement numbers, however I don’t see that happening, nor do I think its needed.

The things could even be built in the UK. Babcock at Appledore seem to have worked wonders on the Samuel Beckett class OPV for the Irish navy. £45million for a naval ship built in the UK!

Should the navy realise the unmanned systems are its future we may see steel being cut, for some of the mentioned vessels, in the 20’s. They are positioning them self quite well here, that is until everything gets chopped away…..

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 4, 2015 11:24 am

Personally I favour a combination of extra OPV’s and a couple of larger commercial grade vessels (aimed at the survey work) for this role. With all the equipment capable of being operated by the existing OPV’s and T26, as well as being airdeployable to meet a suitable vessel, either RN or commericially leased locally. I am not advocating regularly changing what the vessel is doing but rather being able to get extra capability into theater quickly.

shark bait
shark bait
February 4, 2015 11:34 am

, airdeployable that is a very good point. Would be nice for a set of containers that could plug in and play on any of the navys ships, and easily be flown out from the UK to meet a vessel.

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 4, 2015 11:59 am

The NATO submarine rescue system has proved that it is possbile to deploy a large system and mate it with a suitable but unprepared vessel. This should provide a large number of lessons to influence the MHC project.

@ Sharkbait

You only need a flightdeck and hangar if you expect to deploy helicopters, if you are using the vessel as a base for off board systems then you don’t need one, so save the money and space by not building the flightdeck and hangar.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 4, 2015 12:19 pm

The “patrol” element was dropped because we bought the BAE three – which nominally fills the requirement. Remember that for C3 as the original pathfinder study called it, it was a common class of ship to fill the patrol, MCM, droggy requirement. That did not mean we were suddenly going to gain loads of “extra” OPV, because there is no requirement for such. The mobility element was important to get over the limitations of the current MCM.

Cheap lumps of metal with big-ass mission bays and flight decks are exactly what the USN went for with LCS. they made their lives more complex with the need for high speed, but if you look at the ships now, you’ll find that the main issues being found are to do with space for bodies (offboard system can actually require more bods to look after the kit and associated comms etc) and with the capabilities of the offboard systems themselves. Unmanned / autonomous is by no means a done deal – it’s the current flavour du jour and may or may not be the future depending on how they turn out in real operations aginst real OPFOR.

One also ought to be very careful comparing the Irish Navy ships with “naval ships”. Just because the Irish force describes itself as a “navy” (and no disrespect intended here), does not mean that the ships are intended to fight or even enter combat of any sort. In fact, the Class notations that they’re built to are significantly lower than the lowest the RN considers for small surface vessels. Not that this will deter the Jane’s Fighting Ships spotters tendency…….

shark bait
shark bait
February 4, 2015 12:20 pm

, agreed, but I think its worth the extra cost because you have the option for a helicopter which adds tonnes of capability to the ship, should such a situation arise. If you are not operating helicopters you then have a large space that can be utilized depending on the mission. Its difficult to be flexible without having the space to accommodate the flexibility which is exactly what a hanger and flight deck gives.

I think a modern naval ship built without a hanger is foolish. (looking at you rivers!)

shark bait
shark bait
February 4, 2015 12:34 pm

@NAB, that is a classic case of gold plating and doing things the american (wrong) way. “make it big and loud an awesome and worry about how it will work and the cost later”. The C3 shouldn’t resemble the LCS at all, personally I favor the black swan concept.

I agree with you comments on unmanned systems, they are very much still in the demonstration phase, although I believe successes have been reported in the surveillance and MCM areas. Id put my money on them being developed further into the 20’s and eventually becoming and integral part of all the forces. It might not, but the military can risk not being capable if they do take off.

Also I couldn’t seriously compare the Irish navy to anything British! It was merely a nod to what UK shipbuilding is capable of outside BAE

February 4, 2015 1:01 pm

TD – nothing wrong with modular design. To a degree everything now is modular, as we have standardisation of components from the simplest nut & bolt to the most complex plug&play software. So it looks like the issues whatever they may be come down to requirements and implementation.

It seems the procurement agencies across the globe all indulge in the same deluxe purchasing mentality – as in when being offered the basic item (merely adequate but fully compliant) or the deluxe item with added Gucci features, they can’t help themselves from selecting the more expensive option. Lots of justifying after the fact that its future proofed or has better growth capacity or represents better value for money (?!?) or enables greater efficiency in use etc etc, but the simple truth is the cheaper option would have met spec and done well enough.

We also need our requirement writers to be savvy enough to create sound achievable focused and affordable requirements – something that has become more and more rare over the decades. As I noted in a comment some weeks back the process now pushes requirement writers to deliberately over-specify and to include mutually incompatible requirements as levers to get more imaginative solutions from the bidders (also a simplistic trick to discount chancers who promise compliance to every requirement). This has to mean The Requirement exceeds the operational need for the capability being bought, and is therefore more expensive than need be.

shark bait
shark bait
February 4, 2015 1:15 pm

TD, I would say they are fair points. They seem to want to create a ship that is world class at war fighting, whilst at the same time a mine hunter, so yes it may be the ‘span of requirements’ that is the issue. The concept of modularity is sound!

As soon as you make something modular or swing role, you have to compromise on capability. This loss of capability is usually outweighed by large efficiency benefits. The LCS want to be modular and still 100% capable, it can be done, but takes huge amounts of work (cash) achieve as you have a web of systems versus a liner system. It all comes down to the Pareto’s 80:20 principal again.

Jeremy M H
February 4, 2015 1:47 pm

@Shark Bait

I don’t see any desire by the USN to create a world class war fighting ship with the LCS. If they wanted to do that they would have built the design variants that have some version of AEGIS on board and carried full up VLS systems. I agree with most that the mistake with LCS was the high speed requirement. It just wasn’t necessary. Contrary to what many say it did make some sense with the ships intended mission set (they were not designed to be frigates in any manner) but I just think that the cost benefit analysis made some incorrect assumptions. It wasn’t a crazily stupid idea just something I and others happen to disagree with.

The problem with LCS is not that it wants to be “modular and still 100% capable”. The problem is that the vast majority of the people who like to scream about it want it to be those things. They see a RIM-116 on it and they cringe that it doesn’t have ESSM or SM-2 capability. They want it to have big ASM’s and it doesn’t have those yet either. But honestly when they get the mine capabilities working and get the ASW module working it will do what you need it to do just fine. It isn’t meant to be part of a fleet action. It is a ship that gets sent somewhere far away and will pretty much stay there. You can put a handful in the Gulf to keep a presence there without having to risk high end units. You can position them in packets with Asian allies to maintain a presence in places you want to maintain a presence in.

Now you will get the detractors that will scream that its not survivable in those environments if a serious enemy is shooting at them. Of course they are not. They weren’t designed to be that. In practice they are designed to be able to defend themselves enough that a fairly deliberate attack would be needed to destroy one. The most important LCS mission is to be there and force the other side to deal with the fact that a USN warship is in the area. Everything else is pretty secondary to that.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
February 4, 2015 3:42 pm

I doubt anyone would describe the LCS as big and loud and awesome. The original design requirement called for a full load displacement of 2700 te IIRC. Both have ended up at 3000 or thereabouts, which is broad-beam Leander-ish. Or a Holland if you prefer.

The modular capabilities that the US is having issues with are primarily the MCM and the ASW packages. Neither of which are designed or planned to be used at high speed, so no it’s not fair to say that’s the root cause and it’s entirely fair to say that the MCM package at least, is exactly what so many here are adamant should be modularised.

Some of the issues with the ship are attributable to the high speed requirement -if you want high speed you have to be lightweight, which tends to mean you get battered in the deep ocean on passge to your op area. However, as Jeremy suggests, much of it is also down to not being sufficiently fighty for some people’s tastes, again, not exactly unheard of here either.

If you’re not going to compare the Irish navy with the RN, then throwing lines like “£45M for a naval ship built in the UK” is a little ill-advised. Appledore is a great little yard, but you’re not going to build real naval ships of any size there, principally due to the physical limitations of the yard itself.

February 4, 2015 4:29 pm

Appledore struggled with, HMS Scott, (131m) not a proper fighty ship but pretty long and they had to scew it to get it in! They should be able to build RN OPV’s ad infinitum though but I doubt for £45m…

Quill or Capture
Quill or Capture
February 4, 2015 5:55 pm

Could these capabilities not have been integrated into the (otherwise sort of pointless) OPVs? Seeing as the River Class won’t be that old by the time the OPVs come into service, maybe they could have been configured to perform more of a MHC-type role instead.

The Other Chris
February 4, 2015 6:23 pm

Why are the OPV’s pointless?

Engineer Tom
Engineer Tom
February 4, 2015 6:40 pm

They haven’t even decided what technology they want to take forward to carry out MCM work in the future so there is no feasible way they could fit it onto these OPV’s.

However they can take ISO containers, have a large crane on board and plenty of spare accommodation, so hopefully the systems will be able to fit on board in the future, may even be a good platform to test them from.

Also reconfiguring them costs money.

Looking at the LCS, to me the systems just aren’t mature yet, if we make sure the systems we want to use are mature and work before we build the vessel to carry them, that makes more sense. Also having problems detecting mines on a pass seems to be more of an issue of the sonar rather than how it is deployed.

February 4, 2015 7:32 pm

Why go through the ever so convoluted RN design process when civilian companies produce many OFTS designs to handle ROV’s and containerised cargo whilst at sea in difficult sea states such as those experienced in the North Sea oil fields.The off shore wind farm industry has many developed from this area as well as off shore pipe laying support vessels. Industry is chocablock with many tried and tested highly capable vessels, spending 10’s if not 100’s of millions to develop from scratch a couple of vessels to do what is being done by hundreds of vessels around the world everyday is just throwing money away.

February 4, 2015 7:38 pm

I think the Batch 1 Rivers with their large cargo deck and crane would be a great test bed for proving the new MCM technologies.

Longer term can imagine something along the line of the following carrying a couple C-Sweeps would fit the bill nicely to replace the MCM tubs…


February 4, 2015 7:49 pm

Kockums Flexpatrol anyone?

February 4, 2015 7:51 pm

If the “P” has been satisfied by the 3 OPVs, then why are they replacing the existing ones?

19 FFs/DDs + 7 OPVs + the 4 Survey / Ice Breaker ships gives the 30 globally deployable platforms that has been mentioned as the approx target.

Every T26 lost should increase the OPV numbers by one…

The Other Chris
February 4, 2015 8:54 pm

“Every T26 lost should increase the OPV numbers by one…”

Completely agree.

The team at TD Towers have a design for what I term a “Through-deck Ocean Patrol Vessel”.

Admittedly this “TD OPV” does appear at first glance to be a bit large in terms of the tonnage, that’s mainly due to leveraging the lower price of constructing fuel stores compared to most military equipment to bestow a long endurance allowing us to send one of these vessels to the Caribbean, Falklands or Mina Salman instead of tasking one of those “High End” Type 26’s we need to keep with the two RFTG’s to maximise your valued investment there.

If we don’t pay for any significant equipment on the upper rear quarter of the vessel, we’ve found we can utilise the space to reuse our existing rotorcraft assets: Up to a pair of those small Wildcats, Merlins, Chinooks, etc. In order to maximise the assistance from our allies we’ve factored in cross-decking a pair of US Marine Corps King Stallions and Ospreys as well. Oh they’ve approached you with a mind to purchase some as well as part of a shared spend? Try before you buy, eh?!

This larger deck area we happen to have also allows the crews complement to engage in joint operations with Brigade 77 by forming pictograms on deck for aerial or waterline shots from the offboard equipment. We need enough berths for those numbers of personnel, not all need to be onboard all the time of course, there’s also visitor accommodation for the Captains Dinners – we must keep up tradition and “pass the port” with you and your department!

After all, steel is cheap and air is free, right!?

We’ve innovated further in cost saving with the combat system. A new “Upright Modular Container Tube Cluster” allows us to fit the vessel for, but not with, missiles in the tubes whenever we choose.

Guns? I’m glad you asked! Of course we agree it needs guns! We’ll make sure it looks “fighty”. We do have a few types in mind that will look impressive when we perform the port visits for the trade visits, oh yes!

Of course a well considered “mission bay” allows for up to 20 ISO Containers of humanitarian and disaster relief supplies, maybe a few 8×8 and tracked “utility” vehicles too for CJEF and UN related actions, which the DfID budget can easily accommodate if we work together on this…

Finally I know that environmental concerns weigh heavily and are the most important factor for the vessel. Our boffins, as well as some of our staff who are not boffins, have worked hard to make sure the vessel is almost silent in the water and extremely difficult to see on or over the horizon unlike those unsightly offshore wind farms, am I right?!

Just sign here… and here…

February 4, 2015 9:32 pm

Thanks Repulse, I’m only charging 50p for good ideas these days.

Red Trousers
Red Trousers
February 5, 2015 2:40 am

Do we actually need any more chuffing boats?

I think the Andrew have been more than greatly indulged in the last decade. They should be sent to the back of the money queue.

The Other Chris
February 5, 2015 7:33 am

You got your CVR(T) replacement RT, you chose not to use a GT, back of the queue please.

February 5, 2015 10:01 am

“19 FFs/DDs + 7 OPVs + the 4 Survey / Ice Breaker ships gives the 30 globally deployable platforms that has been mentioned as the approx target.”

Agreed, would be happy with that but on the T26 thread I have proposed an aspirational hi-lo fleet with a modest increase to 20 DD/FFs and 10 OPVs so 34 including odds and sods (I’d got with 19+10 or 20+7 as alternatives). Key being is to maximise the use of existing designs and resulting production efficiencies.

And agreed for using B1 Rivers (and Clyde) for test bed work in UK waters

February 5, 2015 11:18 am

In many ways this could just be simply seen as a cut in numbers. Hunts and Echo’s perform patrol tasks all the time. Any ship by definition can do patrol work. It’s a cut in the survey and MCM fleet dressed up as a replacement by the Batch 2 rivers.

Personally I would hope to see the MHC task performed by a civilian built Offshore a supply vessel painted gray. That way no one will start screwing around with it and we might be able to afford more than 6 and have money for a decent module fit.

February 5, 2015 11:39 am

– I would want the existing MCM and Hydro fleet as they are ring fenced as niche world class capabilities until the technology for replacement matures and the appropriate vessel design is finalised (Tupperware ship or larger commercial based vessel as you suggest). I don’t want to drift too far into fantasy fleet land but at least if we can keep existing vessels and see the new Rivers as an addition to the fleet rather than replacing anything, it would help with stretch allowing more permanent presence in WI, FI and Gib possibly.

shark bait
shark bait
February 5, 2015 12:27 pm

Good ideas about using rivers as a test platform, they are similar to the plans for future MCM, makes sense to see how well it works, and where the design can be improved before cutting steel. Maybe convert the rivers as dedicated MCM vessels and order a new class of more capable OPV’s?
As a bonus your MCM fleet is now better equipped for its secondary role as an OPV

I cannot decide between adapting a commercial offshore supply vessel, or purpose built. I think the best thing to do would be to open the competition up, leaving the requirements wide open and see who brings an innovative and cheap vessel to the table, weather it be UK or foreign built, commercial or military, I don’t think it will matter.

Has any one seen a recent date for the replacement of the MCM fleet? I have seen 2018 kicked around but I guess this is an old figure as it seem very unrealistic!

The Other Chris
February 5, 2015 12:46 pm

They’re both plastic hulls, the Sandown’s have Valenta’s while the Hunt’s have nice Deltic’s.

The Deltic’s aren’t set up to run at the units theoretical full whack and if (when) they have problems are small enough to swap out in a port.

The Valenta’s have a reliable history, Paxman marines have a heritage similar to Perkins agriculturals.

The Other Chris
February 5, 2015 1:56 pm

Worth forking out $180,000 for the ISO Container carriage alone?


The Other Chris
February 5, 2015 2:23 pm

T-AGOS, in particular USNS Impeccable, is also worth a shufty:


Although if you’re looking at SWATH for Oceanic Survey, Ramform’s are an interesting topic as well:


The Ramform Titan completed the 3d survey for the Falklands oil fields last year:


Swimming Trunks
Swimming Trunks
February 5, 2015 6:08 pm

Martin said “It’s a cut in the survey and MCM fleet dressed up as a replacement by the Batch 2 rivers.”

I fear he’s right. Reading between the lines of the FoI we might not get any replacement hulls – the Bays and other Auxiliaries are already used as MCM support; if you want extra speed/survivability there’s always the (5 GP) Type 26’s and their flexible mission bays – 19 + 0 + 4?

February 5, 2015 7:14 pm

Thanks for the reminder (it may be old, but the updates don’t flow”freely”):

“Has any one seen a recent date for the replacement of the MCM fleet? I have seen 2018 kicked around but I guess this is an old figure as it seem very unrealistic!”

Only the Hunts have enough of deck spave to take all these new thingy-bobs supposedly on trial… So expect the numbers to go down on the Sandown side of things?

The problem with both is that they are not exactly “self-deploying”.

February 5, 2015 8:05 pm

I think 2028 has be touted as the rough end of service life date for the Hunt’s and when we might have seen something in the water under the old MHPC program (i believe they have had a fair amount of money spent on them to keep soldiering on).

The Sandown’s are younger but smaller and less flexible so yeah i’d expect a some of them to be scrapped over the next few years.

I think the official mine-hunter requirement is for 12-14 vessels, so 1-3 Sandown’s could be cut without massively effecting the overall force.

February 18, 2015 12:12 pm

marhalim, the defence bdguet cut u mentioned earlier is for RMK or annual bdguet? if it is the bdguet for RMK, it is sad to hear since the sum will be divided through 5 years period of a RMK..mean that the bdguet will be around RM 2 billion annually..with that amount in our pocket plus our exchange rate, nothing much we can buy..maybe we should speed up the critical assets procurement like the nuri replacement..i agree with u marhalim, we should have more patrol boat..marhalim, any news on taming sari squadron u ask before? how bout the other taming sari, smart projectile which was under development of STRIDE,if i m not mistaken?Marhalim: No its the annual bdguet. I should have followed up the question with the RMK but I guessed I was too tired to think ahead! Well theres always next time. Azlan was the one was asking about the Taming Sari sqdn, no updates. Stride is below down the totem pole of MINDEF, one technologist says its even lower in standing than the National Service programme. Personally, I believed we should be concentrating on small arms and small caliber ammunition R/D instead going helter skelter on smart projectiles and such. I know its sound more sexy (smart projectiles) but its only in the small arms and small caliber ammunition that at least we got some expertise. Its better to expand on things that we know rather trying to reach for thing we dont know especially when we are short of funds .

February 18, 2015 1:01 pm

One of two of the German customs SWATH cutter. (The Germans have 12 custom vessels to cover their coast and we have 5. Backed up 6 police patrol vessels where we have none.)


The Other Chris
February 18, 2015 1:57 pm

You can easily envision a helideck on the area where the domes are located.