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UK replenishment ship/helicopter carrier studies circa 1980

Triton

Donald McKelvy
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About 1980, there was a considerable number of design studies into ships that combined the role of replenishment and helicopter carrier in different proportions to create a "cheap" carrier. The simplest variants had a box hanger forward and a big deck with three landing spots aft. This arrangement is only suitable for an aircraft complement of up to six, above which movement in the hanger becomes difficult. A similar conclusions were reached in early studies leading to the Invincible-class.

If more numerous aircraft are needed a conventional through-deck carrier configuration with an island superstructure and flight deck with about five spots and below deck hanger is required. Two elevators are essential since one may be disabled by accident or damage. This configuration would make an alternative deck for V/STOL aircraft to land, refuel, and some limited re-arming. It could not have full maintenance facilities without escalating to the size and cost of a small aircraft carrier (CVS).

There was prolonged discussion about whether these ships should be Royal Navy (RN) or Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) manned. If RFA manned, larger and more attractive living quarters would be required and the RFA insisted that the ships be powered by commercial diesels. If RN manned, the RN was equally insistent that they be powered by gas turbines. Originally the RN manning would have had a ship CO of Commander rank, but when it was decided that the air group needed a Captain the ship CO became a Captain rank.

One major problem applied to both configurations is that flight deck operations made it impossible to have any replenishment rigs on the port side and probably no more than two to starboard. In the "carrier" configuration, the hanger deck must be high enough to prevent flooding after damage--increasing the size and cost of the ship.

Artist's impression of replenishment ship helicopter carrier with a hanger forward and "through deck" carrier configuration.

Source: Rebuilding the Royal Navy: Warship Design Since 1945 by DK Brown and George Moore
 

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JohnR

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The Fort Victoria RFA have the capability to carry and support up to five Sea Kings/Merlins and so could act as a reasonable flag ship for an escort group. So to a certain degree have achieved the aim of merging an Replenishment ship and a helo carrier.

It is unfortunate that; as with all UK programs, the number of ships built was substantially reduced. IIRC the orginal plan was to build six Fort Victoria to the full design spec; armed with Seawolf system, and a further six of a reduced version (I have always assumed the the latter six were to replace the Rover class tankers).
 

Triton

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All good points JohnR. The goal of the combined replenishment ship and helicopter carrier studies made in 1980 was to create a ship cheaper than a small aircraft carrier (CVS) and create a "cheap" carrier. I guess that the points that Brown and Moore were trying to make is that the combined ship would not be cheap and not be without its operational problems. You get the impression that a combined ship would be a poor replenishment ship and a poor helicopter carrier offering little in cost savings. They write "the conclusion had to be that the two roles were not compatible."

If this was indeed the conclusion of the design studies, then why was the decision made to proceed with the Fort Victoria-class replenishment ship with six ships in the original plan? Unfortunately, Brown and Moore do not explain why the decision was made to create the "one stop ship." They write that there were an exceptionally large number of constraints, many of which were not obvious. That eventually the ship was completed in accord with the Ship Department sketch design, years late and much over budget.
 

JFC Fuller

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The 21st century Dutch version: http://www.defensie.nl/actueel/nieuws/2009/11/04/46138774/Parlement_geinformeerd_over_verwerving_ondersteuningsschip
 

TinWing

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sealordlawrence said:
The 21st century Dutch version: http://www.defensie.nl/actueel/nieuws/2009/11/04/46138774/Parlement_geinformeerd_over_verwerving_ondersteuningsschip

Not quite the same concept, as the JSS emphasizes sealift and the logistical support of amphibious forces. The Fort class was an altogether different concept, intended for the support of deep ocean ASW forces, composed of very austere frigates. Obviously, that scenario disappeared with the Cold War, and even before that, the Type 23 had ceased being the simple tow array platform originally envisioned.
 

JFC Fuller

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Same concept in roles combination just slightly different roles resulting from a changed strategic scenario: note the phrase "21st century version"
 

Hood

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A very interesting idea.

I wonder whether the aim was an earlier attempt to produce a self-protecting replenishment ship like the later Fort Victoria with an emphasis on ASW warfare as a 'hot-war' escort ship.
Certainly the aft deck layout would make use of Sea Harrier very limited, the through-deck would be in direct competition to the Invincible Class then being built (with 3 carriers would the RN really want more decks to land on). Of course comparisons with Argus are tempting as a training carrier.

Wouldn't it have been recognised that while replenishing a ship/ ships alongside that it could not be effectively used as a carrier and would then be an easier target for enemy submarines/ stand-off weapons etc.
I think perhaps the Whitehall penny-pinchers had the idea and the DNC drew up the studies pointing out the obvious pitfalls.
 

JFC Fuller

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There was a habit of drawing up basic designs for even the most unlikely of requirements so there are some real oddities out there but most of them were never seriously considered.
 

RLBH

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Triton said:
If this was indeed the conclusion of the design studies, then why was the decision made to proceed with the Fort Victoria-class replenishment ship with six ships in the original plan? Unfortunately, Brown and Moore do not explain why the decision was made to create the "one stop ship." They write that there were an exceptionally large number of constraints, many of which were not obvious. That eventually the ship was completed in accord with the Ship Department sketch design, years late and much over budget.

I would suggest that the Fort (II) class evolved from the need to keep the Type 23 class up-threat in numbers during hostilities and the preceding period of tension. If the ships need only come off station to replenish once with one ship, that's less time off station and reduces the number of frigates needed. The aviation facilities were intended to provide higher-level maintenance than can be done on a Type 23, again keeping more Merlins up-threat for the same force level. The Sea Wolf, of course, is a natural consequence of the up-threat role of the Fort (II) design, which would necessitate it having some ability to defend itself against attacks.
 

JohnR

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I have often wondered if that when the design of the Type 23 was upgraded from the basic towed array tug originally intended to the balanced ASW/GP Frigate that emerged, someone at the MOD didn't notice and forgot to remove the aviation features fitted to the Fort's which were to support them/ act as mother ships :D?!?!?!?!
 

PMN1

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A paper on multi use replenishment ships

http://media.bmt.org/bmt_media/resources/33/JointSupportShipsFinalPaper4.pdf
 

TinWing

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sealordlawrence said:
Same concept in roles combination just slightly different roles resulting from a changed strategic scenario: note the phrase "21st century version"

No, the "roles combination" is entirely different for the Dutch JSS. There are no obvious parallels in configuration, although it might be argued that the former Canadian JSS project did arrive at a similar configuration to the Fort class, but only in the broadest sense possible.
 

TinWing

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JohnR said:
I have often wondered if that when the design of the Type 23 was upgraded from the basic towed array tug originally intended to the balanced ASW/GP Frigate that emerged, someone at the MOD didn't notice and forgot to remove the aviation features fitted to the Fort's which were to support them/ act as mother ships :D?!?!?!?!

The "aviation features" of the Fort class didn't represent much of design burden, so they remained, and were used to good effect in a number of post Cold War scenarios. As I understand it, the original Type 23 concept had been for a quiet towed array platform with a helipad, but no hangar, so the helicopter maintenance and support functions would have fallen to the Fort class ship supporting a handful of Type 23s. In the end, the large hangar and flight deck remained, and although they might have seen oversized for everyday operations, they did represent a useful capability in the immediate Post Cold War period.

It is very clear that the MOD did dispense with the very expensive weapon and radar systems, although the two completed ships did retained the space for the retrofit of those systems.
 

TinWing

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PMN1 said:
A paper on multi use replenishment ships

http://media.bmt.org/bmt_media/resources/33/JointSupportShipsFinalPaper4.pdf

Yes, a very interesting paper that subtly related the differences between the Aegir concept and the former Canadian JSS proposal.
 

JFC Fuller

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TinWing said:
sealordlawrence said:
Same concept in roles combination just slightly different roles resulting from a changed strategic scenario: note the phrase "21st century version"

No, the "roles combination" is entirely different for the Dutch JSS. There are no obvious parallels in configuration, although it might be argued that the former Canadian JSS project did arrive at a similar configuration to the Fort class, but only in the broadest sense possible.

No it is not: The notion of combining a primary role and a secondary role puts the two designs in the same category.
 

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