Speaking at the RUSI this morning, the Rt Hon Gavin Williamson CBE MP and Secretary of State for Defence described a new approach to ‘Transforming UK Defence to Meet the Global Threats of Tomorrow’ in which the subject of a new type of ship was covered, the Future Littoral Strike Ship (FLSS)
The First Sea Lord followed up with a tweet that showed a representative graphic.
Designed to support the unique capabilities of @RoyalMarines Future Commando Force, FLSS offer a dramatic increase in the range, mass & lethality of forces that can be projected from sea to land, delivering decisive military effect anywhere in the world, at a time of our choosing pic.twitter.com/ctrDWNgGML
— Former First Sea Lord 2016-2019 (@AdmPhilipJones) February 11, 2019
Of course, sharp-eyed defence types immediately recognised this as pretty close relative to the US MV Ocean Trader/Cragside, a ship subject to much speculation and commentary over the years.
Whilst I had a bit of fun on Twitter it might be useful to have a signpost to previous blog posts and long reads in the TD archive in which we have discussed these concepts, proposed others, and generally had about the subject of civilian to naval conversions.
The oldest post was one of the first multi-post series on the blog in 2011
A Ship that is not a Frigate
This series looked the potential for using smaller offshore support vessels in the security space, even then I recognised that the essential nature of these vessels would not be high-intensity combat, operating at space beneath and on the left of the fightiness scale
The Return of the Auxilliary Mothership
Credit must be given to Snafu Blogspot, I first read about the Maritime Support Vessel there in 2011, click here but then promptly forgot about it until 2014 more details emerged on the MV Cragside conversion contract., was reminded of this by a few people 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.
I noted that this wasn’t really a first, even for the US, but a first to use such a large RORO vessel and on a permanent basis.
This was 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.
Also worth noting that the UK has also operated smaller, but similar in concept vessels. The SD Victoria is often seen (or maybe not) with special boats aboard in the Worldwide Support Vessel role
In November the US DoD issued a contract notice and I wrote a longer post on the subject
Click to read it.
Lots of detail about the scope and scale of the conversion to the MSV, including details of its jet ski facilities.
A Ship That Still Isn’t a Frigate
I returned again to the subject in 2016 with a much longer series on civilian conversions, but still noting the essential ‘non-warlike’ nature.
This is not a unique idea, many have proposed similar for many years.
The first I read was from Mark Tempest in 2009 at the US Naval Institute called ‘The Department of Cheaper Pirate Fighting’. Mark also blogs regularly about maritime security at his own blog, Eagle Speak.
The reason I called it ‘not a frigate’ because it was not intended to be a frigate on the cheap, or a surrogate frigate, and to emphasise the point so that people would not get carried away by adding medium calibre guns and cruise missiles.
The reason the article was called ‘still not a frigate’ is that that still stands.
If one wants a Frigate (light or global) ask those nice chaps at BAE or BMT to design and build one for you.
In this ‘long read’ I looked at concepts, roles,
Following this, I described three potential approaches/designs based on differing donor vessels, offshore platform support, offshore construction and finally, a large multi lift vessel. This latter example also explored a Point RORO conversion including a reader submitted graphic.
Finally, and despite me repeatedly stating that it was a support, not a fighting vessel, I looked at options for climbing the ladder that included my indulgent hobby horse of putting GMLRS to sea.
With a summary at the end
Irving Maritime Support Ship
The Canadian shipbuilder Irving also proposed something similar around 2016, the Maritime Support Ship, specifically aimed at HADR
— Irving Shipbuilding (@IrvingShipbuild) May 26, 2016
A Royal Navy FLOFLO
A pair of subsequent long reads followed from that.
The first was a look at the Heavylift FLOFLO type of ship with modules that could also double as a more general purpose transport vessel
Click here to read that one
UK amphibious – Today and Tomorrow
With a wider view, there is also some relevant content on TD that covers the subject of amphibiosity and expeditionary operations from the sea
In these, I describe an approach that would see a slight reduction in mass in amphibious forces with for a move to amphibious raiding, personnel recovery and littoral security capability.
Gavin Williamson Gets Some Stick
Farmageddon was the amusing Sun headline
in August 2018 the Sun reported on Gavin Williamsons ideas;
A source said: “The man is out of his mind. No one knows what to do.”
As the MoD struggles to deal with a budget black hole, Williamson has been accused of hatching a series of crackpot schemes to solve an equipment crisis.
According to several senior sources they include:
MOUNTING “really expensive guns” on tractors and disguising mobile missile defence systems as Coca-Cola lorries;
BUYING old commercial ferries and transforming them into beach assault craft, and;
WASTING thousands of hours of civil service time on plans to launch his own medal
The online ridicule continued but at least the Sun gave us this image
I actually thought all were reasonable ideas worthy of discussion but the ridicule continued online
A UK Hospital Ship
In January this year, The Daily Mail reported comments by the International Development Secretary (Penny Mordaunt MP) about the potential to use DFiD funds to create a UK hospital ship.
Good posts from on the subject from;
I also threw some content into the ring, specifically on the ongoing subject of civilian vessel conversions, building on the content above
There is a lot of content on Think Defence on this subject but it has been covered by much better-qualified people than I and we should recognise this.
As usual, Gavin’s speech raises more questions than it answers; will they be RN or RFA, what impact to Albion/Bulwark, how many, what specifications, where are the donor vessels coming from, how much, how will they be crewed and paid for, what is the operating model, will they be the notional replacement for HMS Ocean and RFA Argus and perhaps more importantly, how many containers will they hold!
Perhaps also worth noting, a single low-quality graphic does not a set of requirements make, we don’t know what the final design will look like or what requirements will drive that design.