The three examples are simply to show the potential span of solution, from dirt cheap and limited to super flexible and more expensive. None of these are the definitive article and I make no claims of being a naval architect, so they are just a few ideas and no more.

Are they actually feasible from a design and engineering perspective, again, I really don’t know.

Hopefully though, they are a reasonable starting point for a conversation.

Whether they are applicable for the UK, again, I make no real claims apart from them perhaps having a nod to future mine countermeasures, survey and other replacement and development budgets. It is not based on the premise of expensive frigates fighting pirates or any other spurious assumption that often drives conversations about cheaper fighting ships. I want the Royal Navy’s fighting ships to be, in some regards, ‘reassuringly expensive’, because this means they can overmatch opponents whilst remaining survivable against the numerous threats they would face in a high intensity combat operation. But we face difficult budget times ahead, and some compromise may be the only way to maintain surface ship numbers, not ideal, who likes to compromise after all?

I would say though, that we do seem to have got ourselves into a position where unless there is a fully formed and articulated requirement, nothing happens.

The idea is a simple one, trying to square the circle of defence inflation > budget increases because at the risk of being a bore, more money isn’t happening short of a major deterioration of the security environment.

Whilst holding out for more money we might reflect on something that was also just an idea.

Professor Charles Inglis had an idea for a portable military bridge in 1908, despite no requirement from the Army he would eventually go on to design the various iterations of the Inglis Bridge, without which the Bailey Bridge would simply not have happened.

I don’t claim this concept is a good idea, I don’t claim that it fits any specific requirement but as I am at pains to repeatedly point out, dismissing things is all well and good, as long as people are OK with the idea of a reducing fleet because of our complete and utter failure in containing cost growth in major equipment.

A year or two ago I was roundly pilloried by many for suggesting the RN would not in a million years get 13 Type 26, oh no I was assured, Type 26 is low risk, it will be only £350 million each, we will get 13. So here we are in 2016, let’s just say somewhat less than 13 type 26, an unspecified number of HMS Jam Tomorrow and shit load of Offshore Patrol Vessels we don’t actually need because they are not actually much use.

I think Ray Mabus was on to something, Bad Santa certainly was.

Over to you in the comments, be kind!

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Table of Contents

wsd-600-psv Introduction
hms-protector Part 1 – Examples and Initial Considerations
Wildcat Part 2 – Roles and Modules
1981-custom-platform-supply-vessel--2 Part 3 – MSS (Small) – Platform Supply Vessel Conversion
Offshore Construction Part 4 – MSS (Medium) – Offshore Construction Vessel Derivative
rolldock Part 5 – MSS (Large) – Multilift Vessel
CIEWS Phalanx Part 6 – Climbing the Fighty Ladder
Ulstein PSV Summary
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February 29, 2016 7:52 am

The current situation where we are are relying and dictated to by one hopeless monopoly supplier is untenable. This was obvious before the government of the day decided on national consolidation. Equally obvious is that eventually there is going to have to be European horizontal integration as soon as we extricate ourselves from the Bae stitch up.Great care is going to be needed to avoid this simply ending up as a giant Bae instead of a Lurssens.

There are not going to be a shit load of OPVs,l predict 3or 4,the rest given away after a decent interval.

A couple of the medium sized jobbies would have been great prowling around in their natural habitat of the coast of Britain, with the occasional deployment to the Caribbean or anti piracy patrol. They would have been very versatile and useful for all sorts of training purposes as well. I would go more hanger and less crane.For as long as there is a North Sea oil industry we can always borrow one with a big crane.

I’m not a naval architect either, but I do have some concerns about the centre of gravity of some of your designs.

None of your ships are designed or manned for survivability or damage control. This is OK as they are not intended for hot zones. If deployed in such areas they will have to be escorted the same as any other merchant vessel, or regarded as disposable. Expensive damage control systems and priceless manpower did very little good for Sheffield or Coventry.

If we had a need for one of the big one’s we shouldn’t have got rid of one of the bay class.

Very thought provoking and some really good ideas,none of it will ever happen though for as long as we have 2 large carriers,which have put the RN ludicrously out of balance.

stephen duckworth
February 29, 2016 4:11 pm

A really good read TD , daring to challenge the Titans on the unspeakable concept of using what already exist in terms of design and technology on hundreds of vessels across the world working in difficult and dangerous conditions to a cost that wont even cover BAE Naval ships design bureaus stationary bill. For the £348m TOBA generating 3 River class OPV we could have had 4 MSS Large with all the bangs and whistles for our use (and NATO’s , would uncle Sam find a need for such vessels i wonder ?…) and for commercial let in the same way as the Point class into the above mentioned industry. Build them and their associated maxi modules to oil and industry gas standards which a familiar to hundreds of ship yards and have a gigantic global repair and spares network available and what could go wrong. Oh yes the middle man ,BAE and the end user the RN won’t like it.Rant over but that TOBA thing p***ses me off , yes maintain the jobs and skills within the UK but build something useful with it.
Across NATO I think such vessels would see a high degree of utilization on combined operations training as well as the drudgery of supporting the logistics aspect of moving its heavy kit from here to there presently subcontracted out commercially.

March 1, 2016 12:33 am

Great series as ever, and I applaud your creativity and thinking.

IMHO, in the woulda, coulda, shoulda department, I am with Grubbie with my distaste for the miss-management of the Defence Industrial strategy and the long term shipbuilding deal with BAe which should have guaranteed a nice frigate building drum beat; so MSS small (Ulstein PX121) would have in my mind provided a considerably better solution than 3 River Batch 2 : “Facilities for a Wildcat (or similar) helicopter would still provide enough space for 4 12m davits” – yep sounds good to me. As noted on the other pages, paint them white, man them with RFA and Coast Guard Agency, RN / RM. Fisheries, Border & Customs Agency mission crews under the Blue Ensign.

For MSS Medium (Ulstein SX121 ?) perhaps 4 to 6 as ocean going deployable MCM and survey assets. As you note, plenty of room for unmanned surface, sub-surface and arial vehicles for MCM tasking. So, I know they are “much bigger” but perhaps the eventual replacement for my old ships of the Hunt class. As you note they could also be mother ships for Sandown class vessels.

For MSS Large, I just don’t see it. I would rather replace Diligence and Argus with variants of Damen Enforcer / Joint Support Ship (aka HNLMS Karel Doorman). I have outlined my ideas for some “massive commonality” in this space in other threads.

I guess 1 MSS Large or Medium would be a great ideas as fleet test ship – your idea for a government platform for both experimentation and training. To address fightyness, medium calibre guns only but your experimentation ship could maybe do that whole “motion platform plus GMLRS+” thing if ever needed !!

shark bait
March 2, 2016 12:04 pm

I don’t understand why people give BAE and the government so much stick for only operating 1 ship factory. There simply isn’t the demand to support multiple frigate suppliers, heck we can’t even keep one busy. Now imagine we have another shipbuilder, we would have to order 10 new river class that we don’t want or need, that would be detrimental to the escort fleet, the ones that matter. There is simply no way to can sustain 2 factories capable of producing complex warships. They will not survive on exports either because they cannot compete with a cheaper labour force or subsidised industries.

It may be surprising that industrial rationalisation is a proven method to reduce costs, mainly by reducing duplication and leveraging greater economies of scale. In our case those savings has been offset by the reduction of commercial competitiveness. Regardless of that, another yard will not start pumping out frigates at £300million. Commentators give the system a lot of stick, but there is simply not the demand to have any other system.

I would say the MSS concept would not change the industrial situation either. Since we’re looking at a low end budget ship it will almost certainly be cheaper to follow the ‘build in Korea, fit out in the UK’ model that seems to be delivering great value to the RFA at present. That gets us a cheap platform that can be handed over to one of the many companies in the UK whose bread and butter is maintenance and conversion of offshore equipment, now in a depression with the north sea slowdown, which should hopefully drive a strong competition.

A quick mention on survivability, the MMS should not be expected to do anything other support platforms wouldn’t do. We don’t expect our mine hunters, OPV or auxiliaries to have world leading survivability features because it just isn’t worth it. Adding expensive survivability features to a cheap vessel that will probably never need them doesn’t make economic sense. That is not to mention a platform supply vessel taking exocet hit will be beyond economical repair regardless of how robust the build is. Instead taking the same approach we do with our auxiliaries and what the cheaper European navies do is the better approach. Enough to get the crew out safely and then hope for the best.

Also if the platform is cheap and distributed you can gain robustness through numbers. Surely that is better at the low end.

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 2, 2016 1:30 pm

“We don’t expect our mine hunters, OPV or auxiliaries to have world leading survivability features because it just isn’t worth it. Adding expensive survivability features to a cheap vessel that will probably never need them doesn’t make economic sense. That is not to mention a platform supply vessel taking exocet hit will be beyond economical repair regardless of how robust the build is.”

Survivability isn’t just about missile defence. In fact, some of the most expensive survivability features tend to be associated with UWW. In at least one of your ship types above, there is a significant risk that the wonders of autonomy / remote systems may not deliver sufficient capability to provide an adequate substitute. Which means your ship may still have to prosecute threats at close range. Which means survivability may remain a non-negotiable requirement……..

Not a Boffin
Not a Boffin
March 2, 2016 5:38 pm

I think you misinterpreted my comment. That was aimed squarely at the idea that our MCMV are not designed and built with a high level of survivability, which is laughably untrue. The only way it could be reduced is if the promise of autonomy / offboard systems can be realised in practice. Which is far from certain.

None of the MSS thinking is particularly new – it has been looked at numerous times. If I have an issue with the concept it is that it is entirely based on the idea that you are replacing DD/FF with “something else” (which can only be paid for and manned out of the DD/FF budget) on the assumption that the DD/FF is on task purely to do pirate chasing / HADR / etc. I don’t happen to think that is a valid assumption – which means that you end up diluting your combatant fleet for something that can’t be used elsewhere when the poo hits the fan. Or worse – the asset nearest the point of need is actually a sinking waiting to happen. Someone upthread referred to that as the Zambellas doctrine – which is utter hoop, that philosophy has been around for decades.

There are a couple of areas where some form of MSS might be of use. Unfortunately, those areas do not require lots of hulls and may be subject to readiness factors that render the modular ideas invalid. Still Diligence is an obvious one, an air training deck (not Argus) another. Unfortunately there is no money at all to even consider much beyond that.

The solution to ever-increasing ship costs is to take a large battleaxe to the process and approach currently in vogue to design and procure ships and to recover the understanding of what activities at what stage are actually necessary – ie where the cost is accruing. One other thing – offshoring hull construction (be it to Korea – or the oft-touted Euro consolidation of warship builders) does not help in the long-term. Sooner or later you will run out of acceptable places to offshore to and you will be far less able to recover that capability onshore.

March 2, 2016 5:48 pm

@sharkbait – Pound for tonne the Hunt class MCMV were the most expensive vessels ever built for the RN when they were delivered (not sure if that remains extant). Ability to handle underwater shock, worlds biggest GRP hull (at the time), non-magnetic diesel enginge, even non-magnetic divers knives….. its all survivability. Would a big steel Usltein SX121 based MSS need the same levels of shock protection etc – maybe not, depends on the range of those off board MCM assets. Would it’s civillian standard fire fighting kit be good enough, I should think so, given modern civvy standards ! Somebody on these threads pages put some comment about expensive damage control kit on the Sheffield and the Conventry – are you frakkin kidding me ? A simple FF water main, and CO2 drench for the gas turbine modules ? When I got posted to the Naval Party on the Diligence in 87, its Halon drench and auto-closing doors, water sprinklers in certain compartments etc were streets ahead of the Leanders and 42’s I had served on !

When we decided to send Hunt’s to the gulf the first time during the Iran-Iraq war, they got a passive missile approach warner (radar warning system) and manual chaff and flare launching system. They got two GAMBO too, but they would not have helped against Iraqi Exocet or Iranian Silkworm. However would did make us feel safe was the T22 working as sheppard / goal keeper. A Hunt hit by an Exocet is a done, an SX121 hit by an Exocet is done, maybe. Probably same for mine hit, or god forbid, torpedo. So overall I agree entirely on your point ref survability. “The ship that is not a frigate” may not be an offensive weapons system, but it may get in harms way, there is a cost benefit analysis.

Not A Boffin
Not A Boffin
March 2, 2016 8:03 pm

“On replacing DD/FF, at the risk of being repetitive, the whole title of the series is to hammer home the point that these are not frigates”.

Except that in order to fund these MSS, you’re going to have to drop something and the implication is that they’re going to go and do things that DD/FF do as part of their wider role routinely. So while you may swear until you’re blue in the face that they’re not frigates, the inevitable conclusion is that you’ll end up reducing DD/FF hull numbers in favour of these “things” that have no warfighting role or utility whatsoever. Worse, you end up reducing inherent warfighting capability (which is generally on an involuntary basis) by optimising for constabulary ops which are generally voluntary.

As for fixing the issues, it’s not so much changing the process. As ever process is what the ignorant and/or incompetent in the true sense of the word hide behind when out of their comfort zone. What needs to improve is the actual understanding/knowledge across the piece in MOD and industry as to how to design ships and cost the build. While far from easy – it is almost certainly preferable to th alternative – but institutional change is never popular…..

March 2, 2016 10:18 pm

A few years ago it would unthinkable that the UK would be basically out of armoured vehicles and end up having them built in Spain (I know that we are going to have some of them finished off in Wales at vast expense). If nothing is done the present arrangements for shipbuilding will follow a similar trajectory.

The UK government pays for all the expensive R&D,you might think Bae should be able to leverage this and get some export orders. France and Germany have very high wages and social costs but they somehow seem to manage it.My work occasionally takes me to dockyards both here and abroad. The difference is quite noticeable. It’s all very well moaning about a lack of money (we are 5th in the world I believe), but half a billion pounds have just been blown on 5 unwanted OPVs (it’s actually more than that, but we will hopefully get some change back when we flog them off).Clearly it’s not just Bae to blame, planning is awful, particularly destructive are design holidays.

I see cross European mergers as the only way out. As things stand we might be better off just having them built abroad, again a few years ago having ships built in South Korea would have been unthinkable.

As far as damage control is concerned I am no expert, but it’s always put forward as a reason warships cost so much and have such high levels of manpower. I am aware that they carry an awful lot of extra kit and are built differently.It’s debatable how much use this is, as modern warships seem to become a liability after quite modest damage. Aircraft carriers are particularly complex and therefore vulnerable. As we will only have 1 in service at any one time, our enemies will easily take care of it, quite possibly sitting in Portsmouth Harbour. In contrast MSS are cheap and have a small crew so can be regarded as semi disposable. In the event of a nasty war there is going to be a need for something in home waters for patrol, demining, etc.

March 2, 2016 11:05 pm

Another thought. Probably the 2 most important war winning classes of ships in ww2 were the flower class corvette and the escort carriers, both commercial designs. Although we did still need the full spectrum.

shark bait
March 3, 2016 9:06 am

Do people forget that BAE is a business, and as such exist to generate cash, they are not going to design a frigate for us for free. If BAE did pawouldy for all the expensive R&D, that then be charged as an overhead on top of the frigate construction cost, and thus we are still paying for all the expensive R&D. Nothing is free. France and Germany somehow manage to do it because their government support them through industrial subsidies out side of the military budget. In the end it still costs the tax payer the same. Again, nothing is free.

RE Survivability;
I understand the survivability features of the mine hunters, and understand they cost a small fortune and will mostly be made redundant the developments in off-board systems. I think that drops the risk down to a level where it is acceptable to reduce the survivability features in search of savings.

RE replacing DD/FF;
The mine hunters and survey ships have yet to replace our escort fleet, why would the MMS. They are fundamentally different platforms, whist some roles may be interoperable, they are definitely not a replacement.

The Royal Navy is based around 3 core capabilities of Continuous At Sea Deterrent, Carrier Strike, and Amphibious Readiness. The escort fleet and capitol ships make up these core capabilities. Everything else, whist very important, is non core and only lives to support the core capabilities. Those core capabilities have to be great, which despite taking low risk approaches, still requires vast resources and the MMS should certainly not detract from that. The support fleet is still critically important to allow the royal navy to do what it wants where it wants, and is approaching the time for renewal. There is certainly an opportunity with this renewal to generate savings through the support fleet by approaching the challenge with non traditional assets, like the ones presented in this concept. The cheaper MMS can generate savings, which means resources can be focused on the core capabilities, the ones that matter. As well as generating savings the navy gets a much more flexible asset that can better serve the core capabilities of the Royal Navy.

Something like the MMS is certainly not a replacement for the core capabilities, but is crucial to allowing them to succeed in the future. I am a big advocate of the concept, and would like to see them explored further as the renewal of our support fleet takes place,

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 3, 2016 10:35 am

There is a running theme that we can take these kind of merchant and industrial derived vessels into Navy and RFA service, and that we could also build them overseas, and both these factors will help keep our costs down.

The reality of our naval shipbuilding though sees us buying OPVs primarily as a make-work program for the manufacturers, and curtailing T26 to pursue another frigate primarily as a make-work program for the designers.

It is stated policy to retain a domestic naval shipbuilding industry; but don’t these recent occurrences suggest that we no longer have enough navy to support the domestic naval industry in a rational way?

Isn’t it time to give the same protected status to the relative handful of auxiliaries that we currently give to the handfuls of warships that we build? It seems penny wise and pound foolish to put auxiliaries and secondary vessels out to international tender while then spending hundreds of millions on unplanned OPVs, and hundreds of millions more to design new frigates to supplant the frigates that we haven’t even started to build yet.

We can legally and legitimately claim the same competition exemption for auxiliaries that we currently do for warships, and maybe if we did we would have a steadier and more rational design and production process.

I’m not convinced that there are any savings to have through pursuing merchant designs and offshore builds, and that costs aren’t just passed onto the haphazard warship building plans.

Isn’t it time that we either take everything in-house to sustain the sovereign warship building capability; or, give up the capability and put everything out to international tender?

Peter Elliott
March 3, 2016 11:14 am


As I understand it there’s actually not much crossover from designing an auxiliary to designing a warship. The levels of complexity required are so very different. All the choices on offer have drawbacks.

If we buy French, Spanish or American warships we give up the ability to innovate or to tailor the requirement to UK mission profile or operating methods. We also lose the ability to order more ships at times we need them: we have to fit round other people’s sovereign work programme. The only way I could see it working industrially is if the French agreed to buy subs (and maybe carriers?) from us in exchange for us buying Frigates and Destroyers from them. But would the French ever go for that politically…??

Otherwise we need to grow the RN back to an industrially sustainable size. The change would be taken out in accepting a much smaller more focused army: fully equipped with fighting vehicles, combat support and ISTAR but with no skeleton brigades and half the number of brigadiers; basically kill off the “Adaptable Force”. I’m not necessarily proposing that: but government does need to think strategically about what UK can do best. And having a continental scale army isn’t (and never has been) it.

stephen duckworth
March 3, 2016 7:22 pm

In terms of survivability in terms of taking underwater damage from a torpedo or mine I would not give the T45 or the newer design of the T26 a snowballs in hells chance of sailing away from it. The crew might save the boat from sinking is about the best outcome imaginable. One thing about TD’s proposal for the MSS Large is that is based on a design that requires the ability to take on huge quantities of ballast water. Even the little MV Delta Mariner I posted about at only a 100m by 25m beam takes on board over 4000t of ballast water once at sea to provide stability for what is essentially a covered river barge. The diesel generators which provide for the propulsors are mounted high above the waterline. The FLOFLO vessels can take on over 10,000t of ballast water so they can pull their tricks. In the event of a mine hit or torpedo strike it will almost certainly be on nothing more than an ballast tank which occupy the lower parts of the ships throughout their length and with ample reserve buoyancy in the remaining ballast tanks should keep her equally well afloat.

stephen duckworth
March 3, 2016 9:57 pm

A Nimitz class carrier can’t sink as in every war game ever played by the USN they have refused to accept the loss of a Nimitz IIRC. In reality who knows, in the past they used to build sections of experimental hull to test the underwater protection as well firing 15″ shells at its armour. That must of been fun!

March 3, 2016 11:12 pm

Last I heard submariners were pretty confident a heavyweight Torpedo exploded under the hull would Crack anything afloat in half.

Certainly the big Soviet wake following Torpedo was credited with enough bang to do it in some reports in the early 90s.

stephen duckworth
March 4, 2016 1:16 am

In 2002 the exUSS Okinowa LPH was sank by a Mk 48 mod5 torpedo .It sank after 4 hours , obviously no damage control was exercised. Earlier in the day naval aviators had dropped bombs on it , fired maverick and harpoon missiles at it but did not start any flooding.

Brian Black
Brian Black
March 6, 2016 10:38 am

Hi, Peter.

“As I understand it there’s actually not much crossover from designing an auxiliary to designing a warship. The levels of complexity required are so very different.”

However, various roles looked at by TD have previously been conceived as roles carried out by second and third tier warships. This is my point. You can boil concepts down to modules carried by cheaper, less complex vessels; but this approach isn’t necessarily consistent with the policy to retain a sovereign warship building industry.

In a Royal Navy context, you can look at the fairly recent but now defunct MHPC concept. An accommodating ship design that could be minor warship or configured to carry out other supporting functions. Various concept studies apparently did what TD has done, and theorized away the need for the common vessel through the imaginative use of unrealized mission modules. If future mission systems could become platform agnostic containerized modules, then the MHPC vessel would be unnecessarily complex and expensive. Modules could be fitted to merchant/industrial vessels, a handful of frigates sporting big sheds, or any old barge with a plug socket (No power supply? No worry, that’s simply another module).

Fantastic! Eliminated a concept, so avoided spending money to realize and then operate it. Of course, the industry is then left with nothing to design and build. If you then have to give the industry something else to design and build, have you actually saved yourself any money?

As for the RFA, auxiliaries have from time-to-time been given expanded duties; carrying out anti-trafficking operations for example. Previous concepts have included command and air defence functions for auxiliaries. Auxiliaries can be as complex as you choose to make them. The balance of costs will depend on many factors; but it could be more cost-effective to locally build more complex and versatile auxiliaries with expanded roles (beyond simply delivering oil and porn to the Navy) – rather than boiling auxiliaries down to their most basic form, handing millions to an Asian shipyard, and then needing to find something else for British industry to design and build.

Peter Elliott
March 6, 2016 11:23 am

BB – one thing the government does seem to have taken on board is to start ordering our complex scientific and research vessels from British yards. In terms of complexity these appear to lie somewhere between a warship and a merchant man and would perhaps be similar to the sort of RFA+ that we are imagining.

Peter Elliott
March 6, 2016 12:11 pm

One observation on complexity and cost: our carriers are considerably less complex than a USN CVN and are coming in at about 25% of the cost of the USS GRF. Less capable but “good enough” to meet UK requirements. This suggests that we are actually doing something right.

T45 and T26 also compare favourably on cost to AB Flight 2A and Flight 3 and taken together should deliver a very respectable capability. Both ships are likely to be in demand for allied task groups.

The cost capability tradeoffs displayed by LCS flight 2 and RN T31 will also be instructive.

Late order Astutes also seem to be popping off the production line and into the water at expected cost and to USN wowing standard.

We haven’t seen a full on naval war for a long time. 1982 showed that poorly defended ships will be sunk by a capable adversary. Looking at the land domain both 1991 and 2003 both showed that superior numbers with inferior kit leads to a turkey shoot.

On the procurement process the main problem to me looks like political or fiscal delays, which gut the process of urgency and realism. If we operated the process at the tempo it was designed for then much of the waste, errors and rework would be driven out.

It all leads me to suspect that the essential problems are political and strategic: what sort of armed forces do we need, want and are prepared to pay for?

The Other Nick
The Other Nick
March 6, 2016 5:25 pm

“The solution to ever-increasing ship costs is to take a large battleaxe to the process and approach currently in vogue to design and procure ships and to recover the understanding of what activities at what stage are actually necessary – ie where the cost is accruing”

Perhaps TD could twist your arm to write a full article on above, am sure it would be most enlightening and may be productive.

March 7, 2016 1:17 am

stephan, IIRC, what kills ships hit by torpedoes are not explosions on the hull or penetrations but the huge air bubble caused by the explosion. The lack of support on that part of the hull forces the hull to support its own weight and that weight breaks the keel or the “spine” of the ship. IIRC, most torpedo explosions are not directly on the hull but actually “under the keel”, so ballast tanks have no effect since the ship is being killed by its own weight.

stephen duckworth
April 7, 2016 3:32 am

I have just watched an episode of The last ship series 2 episode 5 , it involves a stand off between the Arleigh Burke and a sub ,very intense and quite detailed as you would expect. I have been on a few frigates but not operationally , just visiting if you will , any comments on the varsity of this footage?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x