Navy to get Four new Tankers

The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that it is to go ahead with the purchase of four new tankers for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, under the MARS programme.

The contract for the four 37,000 ton vessels has been placed with Daewoo Shipbuilding in Korea. They are expected to enter service in 2016. They are badly needed and should represent excellent value for money, at £452m for all four. They will have double-skinned hulls, to comply with new international regulations.

There have been numerous comments, in various newspapers and on forums and on twitter, as to why the contract was not awarded to a British company. Put simply, there is not a British company capable of building them. And thats before we even consider BAE’s dubious project management track record. The MARS ships are, essentially, of a commercial design, of which Daewoo have much experience.

The MOD confirmed that no British company actually bidded for the contracy. They were actually designed by BMT in Bath, so one would imagine that at least some of the design work stayed in this country. £150m of associated contracts have been awarded to British companies. It is good if defence work can stay in this country, but the armed forces should not be a monopoly for over-priced, under-performing companies.

One of my regular correspondents has raised the interesting question, what are the ships going to be called? The RFA tend to follow RN convention by choosing historical names – the Leaf, Rover, Bay, Point, Ness, Wave, Fort and Round Table classes are all examples. Perhaps as they are tankers they might take on the Tide names?



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35 responses to “Navy to get Four new Tankers

  1. Brian Iddon

    Great news for the RFA (whats left of it) but what a sad state of affairs when we can’t build them ourselves.This pretty much shows in a nutshell how much this countrys gone to the dogs.Goverment after spineless goverment just let our shipbuilding industry go down the pan.Bad managment and luddite unions didn’t help either.

    • James Daly

      It is a very sad state of affairs indeed. It has been on the cards for sometime, for a long time British firms have got defence contracts on inflated prices, because they knew that the Government would always buy British for political reasons. Whilst it is great if British jobs are secured by defence work, it is merely a red herring if the MOD ends up spending twice as much as if it purchased off the shelf from abroad, as the tax burden from the increased expenditure will be passed on to all of us.

      I hope that the order going abroad will give the British defence industry a good boot up the arse, for too long it has taken MOD contracts for granted. There are plenty of examples I can think of where the Government has bought British, when it would have been better served buying abroad. Aircraft are a good example, as are the Type 26 Frigates – there are numerous, good designs out there ready to roll. And then theres the SA80 rifle… give the contract to a British company, then years later pay Heckler Koch millions to refit them! Sadly I think in the current climate it needs to be understood that the armed forces need to balance capability with affordability, to get the best gear they can for the best price. British firms need to compete into that equation.

      • x

        Not a T26 fan. I would just buy FREMM. It is fitted with the sonar the RN wanted to fit to T45 Thales UMS 4410 CL Hull sonar suite, has a towed array sonar, it is Merlin capable, it is built to take Aster etc. etc. We would end up with a first rate ASW asset that with ASTER 15 would take some of the load off Daring. Of course if Daring had 4410 it would spread the ASW load of FREMM! An escort fleet (stop laughing at the back) of 8 T45 (with all the “best” equipment fitted) backed up by 12 FREMM would be world class.

        Like many I think the RN needs a second rate escort with capabilities above beyond a simple OPV. I am an unabashed fan of the Danish Iver Huitfeldt which is a quicker Abaslon thanks to 4 extra engines with top speed 28kts. No gas turbine complications thank you just honest diesels. We wouldn’t need ASTER CAMM would do. OTO-Melara 127mm with Vulcano guided rounds for NGS and ASuW warfare. Again Merlin capable; actually I would tweek the design so that the IH could operate 2 like Abaslon. A cheaper than 4410 but capable sonar. And designed with space to carry 16 Harpoon; perhaps no good against 1st world opponent but enough to sink many Third World ships. The Danes have their hulls built in Lithuania so I don’t think they would mind us having ours built in Korea, Say another 12 of these and we are back to 32 escorts…….

      • Brian Iddon

        I more than agree that some British defence companys need a good boot up the arse but i don’t agree that we should shut down our defense industry by buying abroad.

        On major projects like aircraft and warships other nations don’t seem much better than we are at keeping costs under control.We need to remember that when we keep defence projects at home we recoup at lot of the cost through taxation on income and spending.

        I’m not sure you can say we’d be better off buying frigates abroad instead of the Type 26 when this project is still very much in the early design stage.If we can get some overseas partners involved the costs could be quite reasonable.

        • x

          A while back some think-tank looked at what the costs of developing a “British Tornado” would have been. They found it would have been cheaper to go it alone.

          You have to watch with who you partner. Working with the French always seems to be a recipe for disaster as they get all the work and our politicians negotiate us into paying for it. Look at Jaguar or Gazelle. When the UK was still involved in Horizon and had a requirement for 12 hulls the French, who only wanted 4 hulls, fought very hard for the majority of the work. Luckily we walked out on that one. But one has to question why with our history on such projects with the French HMG again tried to enter into partnership with them. Consider that all through the Cold War the RN worked very closely with the RNLN, they even bought Leander, yet does HMG decide decide to go into partnership with the Netherlands? No. They had De Zeven Provinciën commissioned 7 years before Daring. It was a Dutch and Spanish partnership that gave us the class which the Bays were based on. As I have mentioned it was Swan Hunter’s disastrous handling of the project that killed the yard and lead to the BAE monopoly; that and the forced BAE VT merger. It comes to something when a yard cannot only not design a ship but can’t follow a set of plans either.

          Designing ships here and keeping the fitting out here doesn’t do as much harm as you would think. As I said the Danes get a very good deal by outsourcing their hull building. And the Dutch have done similar with there new Karel Doorman supply vessel which they are getting for £320million. They retain all the high end work where all the big money is to be found.

          I suppose special mention should be given to Thales who are the designers of CVF. So we have a French company being forced to outsource the building of its design to a British yard to fulfil an RN contract.

          • John Erickson

            So, can we interest you in some used Littoral Combat Ships? Low mileage, and easy to deliver, as they rapidly crack themselves into smaller and smaller pieces. If you need them a different size, only weld together the bits you REALLY need. 😉

            • x

              I would rather have the Hamiltons that are being gifted to the Philippine navy. Lovely ships. In a flight fancy I have thought if the horrid 20th century hadn’t happen and our glorious empire had continued the sloops patrolling the far flung corners of empire would have looked like the Hamiltons.

              Also I note that USCG OPC has entered choppy waters and that the USN may be pushing LCS onto the USCG for OPC to increase hull numbers and so reduce build costs.

              Further I have read that the 57mm Bofors may not have been as silly a choice for LCS as first appeared. Apparently the accuracy, weight of fire, and cost of shells outweigh the 5in’s advantage in range.

              • John Erickson

                Oh, the 57mm is a pretty nice gun, no argument there. Now if they could just figure out how to keep the ship itself together.
                And I have no earthly idea (just like many other people who’s posts I’ve read) why the Navy DIDN’T use the Hamiltons – though the leading reason seems to be that it’s easier to get money for brand new projects, then to buy further copies of an existing project. At least in the USN. The USAF has had C-17s shoved down its’ throat that they don’t even want, but can’t get funding for the F-35s it needs to replace the F-15s whose bloody wings are falling off!
                In other words, if you ever feel really bad about the defence industry in the UK, take a glance at our mess. You’ll instantly feel better! 😀

          • Richard Danns

            Whilst Thales are the Prime Contractor for the QEC (CVF) design the platform design was acually undertaken by BMT, the designers of the tankers. In fact the French govenment spent some time seriaoulsy considering the QEC design for a 2nd French Carrier.

            • x

              Yes thank you. My point was that building and designing aren’t necessarily done by the same company. Yes strictly speaking a should have used the phrase “prime contractor” when discussing Thales and I should have mentioned BMT (again) but I was trying to emphasis how international shipbuilding had become.

        • James Daly

          I don’t think its a case of shutting down the British defence industry, its doing a pretty good job of shutting itself down. Maybe I’m a bit naive, but I always thought that the essence of any good business is delivering a good product, on time, and at a good price.

          With the Type 26, I think the problem is that we’re years behind other countries who already have their versions built and in service. The Zeven Provincien, Alvaro de Bazan, Sverdrup, Absalon classes etc are all in service, yet we haven’t even laid the first keel.

          I think the chances of us attracting overseas partners are minimal, sadly. I would love to see British yards building ships for export, but the last major surface ships that we sold were, ironically, the two Type 42’s to Argentina back in the late 70’s. I think foreign navies would rather wait ten years and then buy our cast offs. Vospers always did a good job selling OPV’s and minesweepers, in particular to middle eastern navies, and BAE have inhereted some of that trade. Why is it that no-one wants to buy British? There must be some reason, I don’t think its just bad luck.

          • x

            Because of my politics I am not of fan of spending to save. But being diffident I sometimes wonder if I could be wrong. Could HMG have spent money on a new ship for the RN to keep up work as the French did? No because we don’t have the capacity; but does the idea in itself have some virtue? I am beginning to think so. The only possibility just about would be Astute 8 using the long lead items for the Vanguard replacement. But that is just me speculating.

            Look at FREMM and look at the equipment and look at the size of our fleet still compared to other European nations let a lone 20 years ago. Where are the British anti-ship missiles, fast firing guns, etc. etc. ? We send our newest destroyer to see without anti-ship missiles, a gun from the 1960s, and a VLS silo with French missiles.

            No we mustn’t take this order for RFA tankers as anything but good news. The £150million coming back into the UK is good. Better than BAE suddenly having cost over runs of £150million. It is good news for the RN. In fact the only thing I can think of that would have made my week in terms of ship building would have been the aforementioned Astute 8.


            • Brian Iddon

              The Astute programme is a great example for not letting our skills wither.Because we hadn’t built a sub for years we had to go grovelling to the Americans for help.Rather them than the French but grovelling all the same.

              I always have the attitude that if somebody else can do it so can we.When Britain was at the top of it’s game other countrys used to copy us and then improve it.Maybe it’s time for us to do just that.

    • x

      We don’t have the capacity with T45 and CVF under weigh. A lot of money went to Scottish yards while British yards were left to wither. But saying that the Bay fiasco didn’t instil much faith in English yards. Shame Harland & Wolf isn’t up to building them as the Points are wonderful ships. These ships will come in on time and on budget. They will be on time because the Koreans will have other orders following on requiring the yard space; they can’t afford to hang around. Korean yards are light year ahead of us now.

      You have to think big picture beyond metal bashing. By going with the BMT HMG is investing in the one sector of ship construction where the UK excels which is design. Next time the QM2 is steaming up Southampton Water go and marvel at what is probably one of the best ships ever built. But it is only the best because of the design and it was designed by the British naval architect Stephen Payne. Rolls-Royce design ships too. And there a good number of smaller naval architecture practices here in the UK.

      This move by HMG is a shot across BAE bows who think they have a monopoly on UK warships supply. What would really put the ship’s cat amongst the gulls would be a HMG order for 4 BMT Vidar SSKs; especially if these were built somewhere other than Barrow. (Though I pray regularly that HMG decide to build Astute 8.)

  2. John Erickson

    Would these ships be able to refuel underway (I assume yes)? Would they have the ability to transfer other forms of supplies, or just fuel?
    Or should I just shut up and go look the stuff up for myself? (Feel free to answer ONLY that last question. 😉 )

    • James Daly

      As far as I know they will be mainly for fuel oil, but also carry other secondary supplies such as AVCAT, lube oil, water and they have space for 20 containers of dry supplies. I would highly surprised if they were not RAS capable also.

      I don’t know too much about their aviation support capabilities, but given that the Fort and Wave class ships have increasingly been used to support anti-piracy operations, one would imagine that they would be capable of supporting a couple of helicopters at the very least.

  3. x

    You have caught me on the hop here young Daly. I was going to have a look at some names from the RFA’s past to see what caught my eye. As this is Diamond Jubilee year I would have thought names to reflect the 4 home nations would be appropriate. I like names from Greco-Roman mythology or that are Biblical; RFA Goliath, RFA Samson, RFA Atlas, RFA Pallas? Short and snappy. (You get house point if you can tell me what previous heavy lifters used those names…….) Apparently RFA San Carlos, RFA South Georgia, etc. are off the list!!! 😉 I like that the RN/RFA re-cycle names but we need to keep establishing traditions. As long as we don’t end up with RFA Milton Keynes, RFA Watford, etc. I don’t mind…….

    • James Daly

      Something relating to their role I would guess… nothing too fluffy or ‘A to Z’ like… something that is inspiring and ‘stands up’ as a name for what is potentially a fighting ship.

      We don’t tend to name ships after people nowadays do we?

      • x

        Big ships need big names. I wonder if they could get away with using some of the older less well known battleship or battle-cruiser names? Something like Canopus perhaps? Actually seeing as Canopus is a star perhaps star names would be good. Of course Sirius takes us back into Leander territory (be that frigate or cruiser.) If it was a couple of years back we could have gone for the youth market with Dido……

  4. More to the point – what provision will they have for self defence? Since the number of escorts is dangerously low, what plans are there to fit decoys and weaponry – a CIWS perhaps as well as close range weapons?

    • x

      Stop harshing my mellow dude. 😦

      To misquote Mrs Thatcher,

      “Just rejoice at that news and congratulate our procurement team.”

      I should imagine there will be a 30mm on each beam and multiple small arms mounts. I can’t see them getting CIWS as only one Wave has them fitted. And perhaps they will come fitted for but not with SeaCeptor.

    • James Daly

      I haven’t heard anything, but one would imagine it would be the usual ‘fitted for, but not with’ scenario. I agree ideally that as very important ships, they could do with CIWS.

  5. x

    @ John E

    The cover of this upcoming book is a bit worrying,

    • Brian Iddon

      i’m more worried about whats going to be inside.

    • John Erickson

      Oh, X, when we threw you guys out 230-some years ago, we just wanted you guys to quit owning us. We didn’t want to own YOU!
      On behalf of the US military, may I offer my condolences. Obviously Congress has confused the Royal Navy with a failed-projects disposal firm…..

  6. Brian Iddon

    Below are the first couple of paragraghs from an article on’s a bit to much to C&P.

    MARS tanker ‘could have been UK-built’
    24 February 2012

    MARS tanker
    At least one of the UK’s newly ordered Royal Fleet Auxiliary refuelling tankers may have been built in the UK if the contract had been awarded to an Italian shipbuilding firm, it has been revealed.

    Giuseppe Bono, CEO of Italian shipbuilding firm Fincantieri, wrote to Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announcing that the company had begun discussions with BAE Systems to build the second of four Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) tankers in the UK.

    • x

      Where would they have built this tanker? Where was the BAE bid? In fact where was any UK bid? The likes of Daewoo and Hyundia knock out tankers and container ships like a Hong Kong tailor knocks out suits. Building a one off of anything, even in ship building where the unique ship is the norm, is these days asking to attract costs and delays. What happen last time the UK followed a European yard’s plans to build a common European design? Do you remember a company called Swan-Hunter? Oddly enough we don’t have the capacity to build one off ships. Ship building programme is that tight in the UK if MoD(N) tomorrow and asked for 2 more Darings it would be like starting from scratch.

      Now the Deepaks that Fincantieri built were good ships. There was some controversy over the steel used which lowered the price by a surprising large margin. You also have to understand the economic realities with which Italy is living. They are utterly desperate and anything and everything that they can do to divert attention and blame they will do. Unfortunately the UK is an easy target. Even though out of all the major EU economies we are the one nation which adheres to EU competition most diligently. Lets not forget who set up the MARS tendering process; it wasn’t the current Tory government. So we are being accused of being un-European for following their rules. And let us not forget the UK would have been building only one tanker out of four. Just one. And who would be getting all the added value work (that is the £150million) on this more expensive by a third project? The Italians. Some would argue the EU has had enough of our money.

      This MARS contract is good news for the UK, the RN, and the RFA. To construe it as anything else is tantamount to professing having no knowledge of ship building or defence procurement. The previous Labour government didn’t do much good for UK warship construction. They fudged CVF and now look to blame the current government. Their disruption of the SSN drumbeat cost the country over a billion. Their forced merger of VT and BAE scuppered any chance of competition for actual construction. So…….

  7. x

    @ Brian E

    It isn’t as simple as that. Yes management got lazy due to a full order book after the war. But you can’t adopt new technologies and work at full capacity. The Far East started from scratch.In a way another sacrifice GB made for the rest of the world. The world needed feeding, clothing, and fuel .

    Then there are the physical constraints of UK geography. Places like Korea are just better suited to building big ships. If you remove other factors you can see that decline in UK ship building tracks the rise in ship size. You can’t bid for work that won’t fit in your yard. (Shame that H&W couldn’t have been utilised as a CVF repair facility. But that’s another can of worms…….)

    And last but by no means least union and labour relations. When you look at some of the absolutely bizarre disputes and the time and the money and the good will they cost not just the shipbuilding industry but the UK as a whole you could make a damn good argument for treason. And such stupid and pointless disputes were carrying on well into the 90s. Union power did more to harm UK shipbuilding and industry than any other force. Unions who were buoyed not just on the subscriptions of the workers but the intellectually corrupt Labour Party feeding off the ramblings of the likes of the current leader’s of the Loyal Opposition father who has made a good living in the UK without getting his hands dirty.

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