Taking Advantage of Idle Fleets

The MoD obtains equipment by one of two methods, CADMID or UOR/UCR.

CADMID stands for Concept, Assessment, Demonstration, Manufacture, In-Service and Disposal.

UOR stands for Urgent Operational Requirement, UCR, for urgent Capability Requirement.

The first is a gated and methodical process that is preceded with the R word, requirement. If there is no defined requirement, it doesn’t enter the CADMID process. UOR/UCR is a means by which equipment to meet an identified shortfall is obtained that short cuts CADMID. Sometimes this works, sometimes it does not, that is the risk one takes with short-cuts.

There has long been a desire for something in-between because CADMID can take a long time, and UOR, too risky. As an aside, it would seem that the SDSR 2015 proposed purchase of P-8 Poseidon falls somewhere between CADMID and UOR/UCR.

One of the SDSR 2015 statements was that 3 solid stores support vessels would be obtained to replace a number of older RFA vessels, there was no mention of plans to replace RFA Diligence or RFA Argus, both of which are looking at the end of their service lives.

RFA Argus

RFA Argus started live with the MoD during the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict as the MV Contender Bezant.

Contender Bezant was utilised as an aircraft transport, ferrying helicopters and harriers on deck.

MV Contender Bezant (Image Credit; RFA Nostalgia)
MV Contender Bezant (Image Credit; RFA Nostalgia)

Following purchase by the MoD in 1985 for £13million she was converted to an aviation training ship at the shipyard of Harland & Wolff, Belfast, with the addition of extended accommodation, a flight deck, aircraft lifts and naval radar and communications suites.  She is now an aviation support ship operating aircraft from her former container deck with the RORO vehicle deck converted to an aircraft hangar.  A Primary Casualty Receiving Facility was added before Argus was sent to participate in the 1991 Gulf War.  Another role of RFA Argus is that of RORO vehicle transport with vehicles carried in the hangar and on the flight deck, a role she performed in support of United Nations operations in the former Yugoslavia.  During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Argus was again present in the Persian Gulf as an offshore hospital for coalition troops, earning the nickname “BUPA Baghdad”.

Besides a brief stint in the film World War Z, RFA Argus is now best known for her starting role in OPERATION GRITROCK, the effort to eradicate Ebola from Sierra Leone.

RFA Argus

RFA Diligence

RFA Diligence is also a 1982 veteran, originally an offshore support vessel named the MV Stena Inspector.

Stena Inspector

After a £28m conversion in 1984 she now serves as a forward repair ship.

HMS Cornwall Alongside RFA Diligence

More recently, HMS Protector was  MV Polarbjørn, another offshore support vessel.

Polarbjørn (Polar Bear) HMS Protector 01
Polarbjørn (Polar Bear) HMS Protector 01

Commercial vessel conversions are demonstrably a proven method of providing non-combat vessels at reasonable cost.

Which bring me to the subject of this post.

Due to current economic conditions, there is a great deal of offshore support and container vessels sitting idle, waiting for either a) the market to pick up, or b) a buyer.

The Norwegian offshore fleet standing idle is reportedly now at 100 and climbing, and according to latest market research, there are 238 container vessels of various sizes, with nothing to do, most of which are small to medium size.

It is a buyers market.

With our new found agility and efficiency in DE&S, can we adjust plans, timings and requirements to take advantage of a fleeting opportunity?

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Northern Power House
Northern Power House
November 30, 2015 12:23 pm

HMS Argus is a superb vessel , truly cost effective in its multi role capacity and provided second to none medical facilities during the Ebola emergency .Argus has done more for the image of the RN and the UK than any other vessel and along with its ships company will not be easy to replace .

stephen duckworth
November 30, 2015 12:52 pm

I am firmly in favour of such a proposal to replace/enhance our HADR stance . By purchasing a small coastal class container ship adding a hospital block topped off by a helicopter pad or just outright purchasing a similar offshore resupply vessel and loading it up with 100’s of sealed ISO containers jammed full of HADR supplies and forward deploying them with a locally recruited skeleton crew in the Caribbean , Philippines, Diego Garcia/Maldives and say Samoa we could have a vessel on hand that could deliver 1000’s of tons of supplies and equipment in days if not hours to a trouble spot not just a couple or so 50t C-17 loads. Granted they would be a constant drain on the DFiD budget (who would also buy and convert them) but out of £17billion per annum worth the money I think.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
November 30, 2015 12:54 pm

Couple of things worth remembering.

If memory serves (and it’s a long time ago!) the Argus conversion was budgeted at £40M (which would be ~£100M in todays money) and came in at £60M (£150M). Since then, she’s had numerous refits, adding capability (the permanent PCRF in hangar bay 1 being a case in point) and which have also had to deal with the ever increasing regulatory burden – SOLAS and the various MoD implementations of it being a particular challenge. Point being that adding capability to a basic cargo vessel to turn it into (for regulatory purposes) a passenger vessel has become ever more complex and will be expensive. It’s also worth noting that the conversion was possible because she was a particular type of container ship – a RoCon, which allowed the Ro-Ro deck to become hangars. That’s a different beast to a cellular boxship which would be much harder to do useful things with – you’d end up with something akin to RFA Reliant/MV Astronomer. I suspect – although happy to be told otherwise – that the remaining RoCon will still be in use, because they can carry more flexible cargoes and the layups will be boxships employed on routes where there’s a trade slump.

As for the Offshore fleet – most of the layups are likely to be PSVs and AHTS. If you’re going to do a Dili replacement it’s the DSV/MPSV ships that are of interest and they are perfectly capable of migrating around the world to where there is (any!) demand. Doesn’t mean it isn’t worth looking at – it is – but I doubt it’s a question of just grab one of these off the shelf. Money is still tight and will remain so for some years yet.

LouisB
LouisB
November 30, 2015 1:44 pm
Reply to  Not a Boffin

I was always under the impression that Government ships in Government service (RFA’s) were granted some degree of dispensation with regard to obligation to follow classification rules – certainly extended times in which to comply. For most types of Government vessels the shipping regulations were long ago altered in order that civilian manned ships could carry out the job that they were built/converted for. I welcome any comments by those with greater knowledge than myself in these matters. On RFA’s it is my understanding that officers and ratings are certainly treated as being under Naval Disciplinary rules when in harms way.

a
a
November 30, 2015 1:59 pm

Hmm. How many would you have to bolt together end to end to make a carrier?

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
November 30, 2015 2:16 pm

I wouldn’t disagree about the process. But having had some exposure to the RN /MoD ability to write a requirement, it’s not the process that’s necessarily the problem. I have seen a requirement for aviation training (quite a few years ago now) that suggested that a deck was needed 30+ weeks of the year, thereby justifying a dedicated ATS. You don’t see that now – and bear in mind that Argus is regarded primarily as a medical capability these days.

I know for a fact that there are a number of very-well argued requirements for both PCRF/PCRS and OMAR and they go into some detail about the capability/performance required.

Where they fall over is the point of contact with budgets. The latter requirement in particular gets very little help from its primary users when it is suggested that some money is required to maintain that capability long-term…..

In short, the approach of “we’ve got one now, can we have another one – it’s really cheap?” relies on being able to justify the continuing need for “another one” – at which point everyone hides under the table.

Louis – pretty much all RN ships now (except the submarines and the tupperwares) are in Class with LR (or DNV for Protector). As far as IMO conventions / regulations go MoD are very clear that the RN/RFA shall comply wherever possible – which in practice means unless there is a fantastically expensive reason not to.

Hohum
Hohum
November 30, 2015 2:26 pm

I know for a fact that MoD (or a bit of it) looked very carefully at transferring Argus’ current role to another soon to be surplus to requirements RN vessel with a large helicopter deck. It obviously didn’t go anywhere but its mildly interesting nonetheless.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
November 30, 2015 2:33 pm

Those folk at the top of Portsdown hill by any chance? Or the people who live in Babcocks office in Bristol?

Hohum
Hohum
November 30, 2015 2:53 pm

Idea concocted at a senior level (my read is main building or naval command), run through Bristol with questions dispatched to relevant bits of industry and DSTL. This would have been 12-24 months ago.

Don’t know what you know but I have been told hat neither Argus nor Dilligence are now considered as being in need of replacement in the near term. I have not been able to get an answer as to their absence from SDSR15/Joint Force 2025, my working hypothesis is that they are considered viable to the early 2020s (Argus had a 2024 OSD) and whoever is in charge then will have to decide what to do about them.

Marcase
November 30, 2015 3:46 pm

Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t RFA Argus suffer from severe hull-creaking back in the late ’90s? I actually visited her then during some SNFL shenanigans and her crew made all kinds of half-jokes/comments that they moved the dining areas closer to the lifeboats because of it.

Converting commercial Ro-Ro’s and other, especially off-shore specialist ships for naval support roles could be a serious growth market. Case in point is the USNs MLP ‘float on/off’ massive transport(s) that’s all the hype in Expeditionary World.

Also “Mercantile standards” construction is inching closer to naval standards – sometimes the difference can be mere inches about the size of manholes and knee-knockers. Certain clean sheet design offshore and merchants are incorporating safe areas to counter piracy; it’s still a far cry from CBRN protected ‘citadels’ or course, but for pure supporting roles this might be sufficient (heck, look at all the STUFT during the Falklands).

However it’s not all sunshine.

New Zealand’s project Protector modified a Dutch (coastal!) ferry design into the multi-role vessel HMNZS Canterbury. Considered a cheap and efficient way to buy a sustainable (affordable) support ship – sort of a mini-RFA Argus – it suffered from (fatal) incidents and seaworthiness due to design limitations.

As with Argus I mentioned earlier, convertion may cause structural issues as operational use doesn’t match original design stress limits. One issue I was told about was a certain Ro-Ro that suffered stress because it was riding too high on the surface as it was consistently carrying too light a load for prolonged periods.

If offshore types can fill a niche role as is, within a reasonable time span, then I’m all for it. For long service/contract periods a clean-sheet, more durable (survivable) design should be considered as we find ourselves more and more in the roughest waters on the farthest oceans.

LouisB
LouisB
November 30, 2015 5:44 pm
Reply to  Not a Boffin

@Not a Boffin

Thanks for that – I’ve been out of the loop for a long time.

LouisB
LouisB
November 30, 2015 5:58 pm
Reply to  Marcase

I spent five or so months on the Sister ship of Argus while in commercial service with Sea Containers. That class always appeared to me as , if anything, ‘over engineered’. Very strong and reinforced vehicle deck with a substantial inner skin. In spite of some extremely heavy weather when fully loaded there was never even a hint of a problem. If a ship is more or less re-engineered for its new role then maybe the ‘as designed’ integral strength can be affected??

John
John
November 30, 2015 11:02 pm

There has been a major downturn in the oil and gas industry due to the low oil price. Many offshore support vessels are being sold off at a reasonable price or being mothballed. It would be a good opportunity to get replacement for RFA Diligent at good price. Many of these vessels are less than 5 years old so running costs should also be low.

Marcase
November 30, 2015 11:57 pm
Reply to  LouisB

As I’m no engineer I honestlty can’t say. I have no doubt that Contender Bezant/Argus was a dynamite ship and served sterlingly – we certainly were jealous of all the capabilities it offered !

Marcase
December 1, 2015 12:01 am
Reply to  Think Defence

Here’s hoping it offers the Canadians a stable naval program they’ve been looking for so long, offering not just some nice ships but also jobs and a black ink budget so it’ll receive the political backing it so sorely needs.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
December 1, 2015 7:44 am

The Canadian government has taken leave of what senses it had left. Resolve is absolute lunacy.

Peter Elliott
December 1, 2015 9:00 am

Does sound like a recipe for a massive clusterfuck :/

Julian
Julian
December 1, 2015 9:03 am

Probably a dumb question, but…. With Argus & Dilligence being Falklands era they are now well over 30 years old and there is talk about them having a few more years in them yet. Also, as conversions, I assume they were built to commercial rather than military standards. I understand that there is another major ship, in the RN, that was built to commercial standards and hence needs to be retired promptly on her 20th birthday in 2018.

As a lay-person these facts don’t seem to fit together. Is it the case that Ocean has been worked so much harder, is it the case that this must-retire-at-20 narrative is an excuse for not admitting that it’s really an issue of cost and/or needing to redeploy the crew to help with RN personnel numbers squeeze, or is it something else?

– Julian

TAS
TAS
December 1, 2015 10:51 am

UOR is dead. Long live the Urgent Capability Requirement (UCR). Different process; there is no longer a pot of money for random kit, but the accelerated requirements process still exists.

The Ginge
The Ginge
December 2, 2015 10:07 am

Dear TD
I found it very interesting the replies to your original question in that they seemed to fall in to 2 camps ;
1. The MOD/Navy insider who immediatly says nope must be built to x Gold Standard
2. The we want everything on it so it can fly upside down whilst launcing missiles that fly at Mach 6. I’d like to call these the Nick Furry element.

Rather depressing when reading as I do think the MOD/Armed Forces do miss a trick when not looking out for Commercialy available equipment. And I would like to reiterate the question asked further up the chain why is HMS Ocean so knackered she is retired in 2018 when most Commercial Ships have a 40yr life span ? Even when sailing regularly across the North Atlantic in very Rough Seas for 6 months of theyear. Even if mothballed like the Albion’s she would be a nice to have to reactivate if really needed, such as a QE getting sunk. Just a thought is anybody knows ?

Robbie
Robbie
December 2, 2015 10:54 am
Reply to  Not a Boffin

RN/RFA comply with IMO and LR regs probably to a greater extent post Haddon Cave than a civilian merchant ship. That is the price of reducing risk to nearly zero for the Platform Duty Holder.
A notable exception would be GMDSS which on military ships can be turned off or used to spoof.

Robbie
Robbie
December 2, 2015 10:58 am
Reply to  Marcase

To get Argus to behave like a carrier deck, the flight deck is 1.5m of reinforced concrete.
The resultant roll characteristics make it acceptable for aviation training. That should not have altered her design limitations but you never know.

ArmChairCivvy
ArmChairCivvy
December 2, 2015 11:27 am

Greece given two weeks to get their act with immigrants together (with EU assisting) – or be kicked out of Schengen
– I would finally want to see some concrete action by EU, on a member state, which would clearly indicate that not everything is a “free ride”

OOOPS… I thought I was on the Open Thread (sorry)

AndyC
December 2, 2015 12:35 pm

Like Hohum, earlier this year I had it definitely confirmed that the Admiralty was looking into using Ocean as a replacement for Argus.

The rumours seem to suggest that the high cost of a further refit makes this questionable while Argus’ OSD has been put back from 2020 to 2024.

I would welcome anyone pointing to a published reference to Ocean in the recent SDSR anywhere. All I can find is http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2015/11/24/hms-ocean-scrapped-defence-review_n_8636364.html

Would the phrase decommissioning include going from regular service to the RFA or is that stretching things too far?

Anyone care to comment?

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
December 2, 2015 12:50 pm

Ocean’s decommissioning is clearly budget-driven – she hasn’t really even done 20 years service – at least 2 years of that time have been spent in various refits. It does seem odd that there are no plans to put her into an extended readiness state, even if only as insurance against commissioning problems with the QEs.

Auxiliary
Auxiliary
December 2, 2015 1:04 pm

The RFAs ARGUS and DILIGENCE may not be ‘pretty ships’ but they are extremely functional and have provided the defence budget with value-for-money both operationally and PR-wise.

TAS
TAS
December 2, 2015 1:16 pm

OCEAN is spent, used up. She was built on the cheap and she has been thrashed. Disposing of her paves the way for the QE class to be the amphibious strike platform of choice and saves valuable funds that would otherwise be wasted extending OCEAN’s life. It’s not like we need the space – with 24 jets and a handful of helicopters, the QE’s aren’t exactly going to be crowded. Same justification for the early disposal of the Invincibles. Also gives us manpower options when crewing up QE – they can gain experience prior to forming the nucleus of POW’s crew.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
December 2, 2015 8:15 pm

I’d suspect with Ocean, one of the issues will be refitting her such that the accommodation on board is actually compatible with RFA (ie merchant) standards and practices. People often forget that bit, which is particularly important given that RFA retention rates at the minute are dire.

Having spent time aboard her (including during a major refit) – I can confirm that tearing all that out, putting in RFA standard cabins – which by the way include some interesting requirements about natural light will be “not cheap”. And that’s just one part of it. From memory, large chunks of Oceans accommodation is either under the hangar and below, under the flightdeck or alongside the hangar, which add other “challenges”.

Sometimes I wonder whether some of the commentariat here have ever set foot on a ship, let alone gone to sea or built/refitted one. Fatuous comments about “gold standards” when referring to something called “the law” – check out the merchant seafaring regs / SIs for example – demonstrate that.

Incidentally, few commercial ships have a life of 40 years – they tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The IMO regs or simple economics catch up with them eventually. As TAS suggests, Ocean is sh8gged because her marine systems (which are generally hugely more extensive and complex than your average merchant ship) were built to a rag-tag of standards. As an example – her donks were bought cheap, because they were end of line of the model – all fine and dandy, but ever harder to support. Her pumps and valves were a collection of similar odds and ends for which almost no logistic support was provided. Her electrical system is a thing of comedy – again, end of life DGs feeding end-of-life switchboards – the list is endless.

The actual steel is mostly OK, but that’s not the expensive part to refit and repair. And then there’s stability…..

So, no, putting her in “mothballs” ain’t an option – and certainly not the same type of extended readiness as the (single) LPD kept that way. Regenerating her in the event of losing a QE would do nothing but spend money demonstrating that the ships systems were irrecoverable. See Rusty B of 1980s vintage for the last time we tried that. And no, decommissioning is not another way of saying transfer to RFA, for all the reasons above.

Once decommissioned, she’ll destore and then she’ll sit in 3 basin in Pompey until a disposal contractor or route is agreed, then off she goes……

Peter Elliott
December 2, 2015 10:25 pm

TD are you proposing a PFI type arrangement where we had a clause to get the ship back for an Operation? Imagine the howls of anguish as the nuns and sickly locals were booted off in short order so we could take the ship where we were about to spoil somoeones day.

Or are you proposing it as a pure piece of UK Aid spending? In which case fine, have a gold star for goodness, but what’s the releveance to Defence…?

Peter Elliott
December 2, 2015 10:35 pm

TD – fine but in that case we’d better buy 2 with the second swing role. Its total fanasy fleets however :/

I say lets buy back Largs Bay (presumably available once both Canberras are in service) and FFBNW the Role 3 Container Hospital that it appears MoD has just purchased. If we need a PCRS sorted, when we don’t use it in rotation with the other 3 for MCM, SF Mothership or APT(N). Job done.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
December 2, 2015 11:18 pm

PFI has been looked at every which way for the last ten years, plus. Everything from the option of mobile NHS clinic round the UK in peacetime to the NGO options off Africa. It the numbers just don’t work.

Or are you talking about converting Ocean? There isn’t enough money in the DfID billions to pay for that – and why on earth would you inflict Ocean on them? What have they ever done to you?

Peter Elliott
December 2, 2015 11:23 pm

NAB what do you think of a Bay Class in the PCRS role? How easy would it be to whip a modular container hospital in and out? I guess the power demands of such a set up would be considerable. Would you draw on ships power or bring generators? And I guess you’d still have to bunker the fuel for the genies somewhere…

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
December 2, 2015 11:43 pm

Of all the ships we have they’d be the most suitable and they have been looked at. But it’s still complicated. Access for litter/stretcher patients, limiting dimensional constraints on the Ro-Ro deck. Medical oxygen is another beaut – tricky to deal with on a ship without a lot of care and attention to detail.

Plus we’ve only got three of them. We won’t be getting Largs Bay back. As per a much earlier post – every time people try to push a replacement PCRS it fails the competing budget priority test.

A Caribbean Perspective
A Caribbean Perspective
December 3, 2015 2:59 am

NaB, TAS – thanks for the info. I withdraw my previous comment. I’m just surprised that the problems are still there after 2 years of refits (10% of her service life) and a very large amount of money has been spent.

Re: Using converted surplus ships for DfID purposes – why is it only the defence budget that has to be burned keeping the shipbuilding industry going? Why can’t the DfID budget be used to commission new hospital ships? I know that it’s not the same as a warship, but it must be a similar level of complexity to an amphib

Peter Elliott
December 3, 2015 11:50 am

I guess if Argus can now go till 2024 the subject will be looked at again in SDSR20.

Diligence worries me both more and less. More because it is a more military critical and unique capability, and less because there are presumably more similar OSV out there that could be converted in short order if we had to…

stephen duckworth
December 3, 2015 4:40 pm

@TD
All for a DFiD sponsored and ran hospital ships , big flat top , hangar , 4 medium helicopters , some UAV’s for disaster area surveys etc , vehicle deck filled with 4×4’s , 6×6 trucks all painted brilliant white with UK AID in big red letters all over them :-) For that matter they can buy the A400Mercy’s slots just released by the Germans and Spanish (who’ve obviously decided they aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future) same colour scheme as the Ships and helo’s fully fitted with DASS as all sorts of nutters have access to SAM’s nowadays from manpads to S-400’s all with the same paymasters , DFiD. Much more visible than some grey or green jobby which all the other nations send to disaster spots , think of the PR! p.s. no big red crosses or some locals may get the wrong idea, that we are invading or some such , as if we would ;-)