Monday, May 30, 2011

Joint Sea Based Logistics

The Joint Sea Based Logistics ship was envisaged as part of the original MARS (Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability) programme, with 3 such ships planned to be built. The 3 JSBLs vessels were to be part of the “Power Projection” tools envisaged as far back as the SDR 1998: these three ships have the support and resupplying of troops ashore (be it 3rd Commando Brigade or a deployed army force) as mission.

The JSBL ships had to be 3, and were specifically tailored at carrying initial sustainment for the Third Commando Brigade, which means supporting up to four battalions. The SDSR 2010 however reduced the amphibious assault lift capacity, and now only 3 Commando Battalions could be put ashore. The requirement itself for JSBL ships is now likely to have been downsized, if not cancelled because of lack of budget.

The JSBL vessel would have the appropriate capability to enable offload at tempo (in current parlance that means helicopter spots and surface off-load capability) and the space to reconfigure loads as required.

These ships were to form the core of a force that includes the ability to conduct the Operational Maintenance and Repair (OMAR) of aircraft, surface ships and submarines. Conceptually, they will also have the capability to maintain land equipment and will combine with Expeditionary Deployed Port Infrastructure (EDPI), Maritime Intra Theatre Lift (MITL) and Future Landing Craft to allow off-load through any port facility, over a beach or direct to the objective. The Joint Casualty Treatment Ship (JCTS)4 was to provide the Role 3 medical facilities of a field hospital for maritime and early entry forces and fit into the overall medical plan, replacing the capability of RFA Argus. All these capabilities were to be linked by Joint logistic information systems that allow real-time asset tracking.
Now OMAR is on hold, as Diligence has been refitted to live at least to 2016, Argus is also going to serve… as long as possible, and the JSBL is at serious risk of never seeing life.

The original plan for the JSBL ships was ambitious, as everything set out by the SDR 1998. Probably too ambitious, and in any case well past what the Royal Navy will be able to afford with the budget allocated to it in the coming years. The requirements for OMAR, Casualty Treatment and land-forces and logistical support from the sea all still exist, however, and in some way, the Navy will have to adapt its original plans to squeeze as much capability as possible out of the vessels it will, slowly and painfully, manage to fund in the coming decade.

I’ll now explain a possible solution for the JSBL concept, which in a low-cost, unglamorous solution combines as much capabilities as possible and which would also be a close relative of the barge-based OMAR solution already studied and of which I’ve already given evidence above. The JSBL vessel could, in fact, be a barge.

I say this with some confidence coming from the OMAR concept from BVT/Royal Navy studies, from US Navy experience with their own Mobile Landing Platform project and from considerations about what barges can offer.

Just like OMAR would replace Diligence with a Barge that, once deployed to the area of operations with a FLO-FLO (Float on, Float off), would become a base on the sea suitable to support, repair and resupply ships and submarines, my proposal for JSBL would be a barge combining several functions, including several similarities with the US Navy Mobile Landing Platform.  

The Float on, Float off vessels can be exemplified by the MV Mighty Servant, a 45.000 tons monster ship with a flat, submersible deck offering 150 x 50 meters of space to embark even the heaviest oil rigs to move across the oceans of the world. Most FLO-FLO heavy lifters are currently employed by Dockwise, the world's largest seagoing heavy transport shipping company, formed in 1993.

A semi-submersible heavy-lift ship, or also known as a "flo/flo" (for float-on/float-off), has a long and low well deck between a forward pilot house and an after machinery space.
In superficial appearance, it is somewhat similar to a dry bulk carrier or some forms of oil tanker. Its ballast tanks can be flooded to lower the well deck below the water's surface, allowing oil platforms, other vessels, or other floating cargo to be moved into position for loading. The tanks are then pumped out, and the well deck rises to shoulder the load. To balance the cargo, the various tanks can be pumped unevenly.

Civilian FLO-FLO heavy lift vessels have been chartered in several occasions by the military, included the UK MOD, which chartered the MV Dan Lifter ship in 1982 to bring back to the UK from the Falklands the RFA Sir Tristram.  
Sir Tristam back on home's route following the war in the Falklands.
The U.S. Navy has used such ships to bring two damaged warships back to the United States for repair. The first was the guided missile frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts, which was nearly sunk by a naval mine in the central Persian Gulf on 14 April 1988. The frigate was towed to Dubai, then floated home to Newport, Rhode Island, aboard Mighty Servant 2. The same operation was done 11 years later to bring home the USS Cole after the famous terrorist attack against the destroyer. 
The USS Samuel B. Roberts rides home after a near-loss following a "meeting" with an iranian mine. The USS Cole did make the travel back to the US in this way as well, years later, after being hit by a suicide boat in the famous terrorist attack. 
The FLO-FLO vessel would be used to ensure appropriate self-deployment capability for the OMAR and JSBL barges, which on their own wouldn’t be properly suited to traveling across the oceans towards the area in which they are needed. This transport could be made by chartering an available civilian FLO-FLO vessel, but I believe that the best option would be to build a couple of ships for the RFA and a couple of barges, or perhaps one OMAR and two JSBL.
A FLO-FLO OMAR solution would allow to deploy extensive repair and mainteinance facilities for ships and submarines close to an operational area, and once deployed the barge, the FLO-FLO mothership could even bring back a seriously-damaged ship to the UK for repairs, representing a range of capabilities well past the reach of the current RFA Diligence.

The US Marines lead the way: Mobile Landing Platform

The US Navy, as part of its Sea Base concept, is now planning to build and acquire 3 Mobile Landing Platforms, which are effectively modified heavy lift FLO-FLO vessels. The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) is a 34,544 MT displacement carrier for LCACs [Landing Craft Air Cushion]. It will also function as a staging position for doing some of the assembly of forces. The MLP would be a troop carrier, carrying 1,112 Marines, and a place where forces could be matched with their equipment before being transported ashore on LCACs or via aviation assets. The ships will be about 800 feet (250 meters) long and built to commercial standards, with a maximum speed of about 15 knots and a 9500 miles endurance. 

The Sea Basing doctrine of the US Marines is the most modern and ambitious approach to force readiness, rapid reaction and amphibious assault. It is the navy's answer to the very same Rapid Reaction requirement shaping the USAF's search for a Prompt Global Strike hypersonic missile or bomber. A requirement for which even a conventional-warhead Trident II D5 has been touted.

In September 2005, the US Navy's Program Executive Office for Ships, Support Ships, Boats and Craft office sponsored a four-week MLP concept demonstration in Puget Sound, Wash., and San Diego to test the platform concept. Since both MPF(F) ships and MLPs are in the early development stages, the demonstration used MSC-chartered heavy lift ship MV Mighty Servant I as the at-sea platform. MV Mighty Servant I, a float-on/float-off ship designed to submerge in the water, is used to transport large, unwieldy cargo like drydocks, vessels and oil rigs. The ship's open deck made it an ideal landing platform for this demonstration. The 950-foot large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Watkins stood-in as the Maritime Prepositioned Force seabasing cargo ship.

The demonstration had two phases. First, Mighty Servant I and Watkins moored together side-by-side while at anchor in the calm, protected waters of Puget Sound. There, the Support Ships, Boats and Craft office's research and development team demonstrated transferring cargo from the ship to the platform and back, using Watkins' side Ro-Ro ramp. Next, the two ships sailed to San Diego to transfer cargo yet again. This time, however, equipment was transferred from the cargo ship to the platform, where it was loaded onto high-speed amphibious landing craft, called Landing Craft Air Cushions, for transport ashore.

These craft hover over water and land to carry equipment, personnel, tanks and Humvees from ship-to-shore and across the beach at speeds of more than 40 knots. An LCAC's air cushion allows it to operate across more than 70 percent of the world's coastline. During the demonstration, the LCACs 'flew' aboard the flat deck of Mighty Servant I so that trucks and other equipment could be driven aboard the vessel and transported to shore.

During the demonstration, Watkins and MV Mighty Servant I were able to moor together side-by-side at anchor in calm water and in 3-foot high seas, and conduct LCAC operations. It was important to demonstrate that this process could be completed safely. Test administrators were also able to demonstrate how equipment can safely and effectively be transferred from a cargo ship to a MLP, and then transferred to an LCAC while underway.

A further trial, in 2006, saw two Military Sealift Command ships perform a unique at-sea demonstration 20 miles off Norfolk, VA, for the US Navy’s PEO-Ships.

In this experiment the USNS Red Cloud, a 950-foot large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off ship laden with combat vehicles and trucks, was paired with Military Sealift Command’s chartered MV Mighty Servant 3, a 594-foot semi-submersible, heavy-lift ship. Both ships were moored together while underway while vehicles were offloaded from USNS Red Cloud onto a surrogate ‘pier in the ocean’, driving down the Red Cloud’s side ramp onto Mighty Servant 3, and then onto hovercraft ships that carried them ashore and back from the Mighty Servant 3’s semi-submersible deck. The demonstration follows a September 2005 experiment involving the USNS Watkins and the charter ship Mighty Servant I. US MSC.

And again in March 2008 a sea basing exercise took place off the coast of Liberia, as part of Africa Partnership Station’s West Africa Training Cruise (WATC) 08. This marked the first time INLS was used successfully at sea to transport cargo from ship-to-ship and from ship-to-shore.

As a first step, sailors from Military Sealift Command’s USNS LCpl Roy M. Wheat [T-AK 3016] used their cranes and equipment to assemble the roll-on/roll-off discharge facility at sea, about 5 miles off of Liberia’s coast near Monrovia, and set up the Improved Navy Lighterage System causeway ferries. Once the INLS was assembled, cargo including trucks, equipment and humanitarian aid supplies were ultimately transferred at sea from T-AK 3016 Wheat, USNS 2nd Lt. John Bobo[T-AK-3008], and the amphibious landing ship USS Fort McHenry [LSD 43] to MSC’s chartered high-speed catamaran Swift [HSV-2], which was docked at the constructed RRDF. Swift then ferried these humanitarian aid supplies to the Liberian port of Monrovia, where they were used to make deliveries to to a number of schools and medical clinics.

The vehicles were loaded directly from T-AK 3008 John Bobo to the INLS using cranes etc., then transported over water using INLS causeway ferries to the USS Fort McHenry [LSD 43] where the ship’s crew and the members of Assault Craft Unit 2 attempted to dock an INLS structure into an amphibious transport’s rear well deck for the first time. Once the Sailors secured the INLS components in the well deck, members of the 4th Marine Logistics Group simply drove the vehicles off the platform rolling directly into the ship’s interior staging area.

While Fort McHenry’s crew worked on that exercise, T-AK 3008 John Bobo moored next to the INLS RRDF causeway. Once the exercise aboard LSD 43 was complete, the Marines reloaded the INLS and departed USS Fort McHenry to rendezvous with John Bobo, proving the ability to carry vehicles and cargo in the other direction from amphibious well decks to supply ships. Once the roll-on, roll-off discharge facility and causeway ferries were all together again, High Speed Vessel 2 Swift moored next to John Bobo, ready to receive Marine vehicles and supplies via the ramp module for transport to Monrovia. US MSC
The US Marines have been experimenting their concept of Mobile Landing Platform as part of their Sea Basing concept.

And in February 2010 the concept was ultimately validated with another pre-contract trial to demonstrate the transfer of vehicles between a surrogate Mobile Landing Platform ship and a Large Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off (LMSR) ship.

An image from one of the US Marines trials, targeted at shaping the face of their future Mobile Landing Platform, two of which are to be built following a contract recently signed, with a third planned.

The test demonstrated a self-deploying ramp system installed on the M/V Mighty Servant 3, and a new self-deploying sideport platform installed on the LMSR ship USNS Soderman. Personnel and vehicles were successfully transferred between the ships in high sea state 3 and low sea state 4 over multiple days of testing in the Gulf of Mexico. Vehicles transferred included HMWVVs, HMWVVs with trailers, MTVR medium trucks, LVS wreckers, amphibious assault vehicles, M88 tank recovery vehicles, and M1A1 main battle tanks.

A modern day Mulberry Harbor

Who read the memories of the Falklands war or the ones who have direct experience of it know how complex it had been to sort out where the kit of who had been embarked. Before the San Carlos landing, the kit hastily embarked on military and STUFT vessels had to be mapped, sorted out and, when possible, moved from vessel to vessel to be matched with its users/owner. It was an extremely long and complex operation, and to this day disembarking and/or transferring material from a ship to another or from ship to shore remains a challenge.

Amphibious logistics are simply about throughput, the ability to offload from ships, usually onto smaller ships/hovercraft and deposit their cargo onto shore, ready for movement inland. The concept is easily expressed, but physically doing an amphibious assault is a whole different matter. It is a complicated, finely choreographed, operation that has to deal with many variables.

The earthquake in Haiti bought into sharp relief the need for port facilities, even the combined capabilities of a number of nations amphibious ships, serious capacity did not start moving until port facilities had been re-established. The allies faced exactly the same problem of logistics in 1942, when they started planning for D Day. Planners knew there was little chance of securing a deep water port, so basically built their own, the Mulberry, the remains of which can still be seen. The principle problems were twofold, providing a protected anchorage and some means to bridge the gap between the shore and a ship at anchor. Although amphibious transports were used, everything from the DUKW to the LCT, the Mulberry was instrumental in the success of the operation.

2 complete Mulberry harbours were assembled, Mulberry A at Omaha beach for the American forces and Mulberry B at Gold beach for the British and Canadian forces. Arriving shortly after D day they assembly started in relatively short order. Mulberry A was designed to sustain a loading rate of 5,000 tons per day and Mulberry B, slightly more at 7,000 tons per day. None was expected to last more than 3 months. The fierce storms of late June were a severe test for both Mulberry harbours and Mulberry A was damaged beyond repair. The British Mulberry was reinforced with items salvaged from the destroyed A.

The Mobile Landing Platform can be seen as a modern day, smaller scale (!) offspring of the Mulberry concept. It is a mobile port facility thought to allow fast disembarkation of vehicles, troops and kit from the huge Ro-Ro ships in absence of a suitable, captured port. In peacetime, it represents a “mobile port” that can be deployed to a disaster-struck area and allow the speedy disembarking of supplies and humanitarian help.  

The Joint Sea Based Logistics barge which I envision would have the very same target, but would also better tackle the Logistics aspect. So what do we want from our JSBL barge?

-          Enable fast and easy offloading of vehicles from Ro-Ro ships in absence of a proper port. Transfer from ship to ship will be made possible by mooring two different ships (two Bays, for example, an LPD and a Bay, a civilian Ro-Ro ship, whatever, one for each side) to the barge and have vehicles driving across it to move from a vessel to the other as needed. Once a Lightweight Modular Causeway was prepared, the Point-class Ro-Ro vessels could come to the barge, and the soldiers could drive the vehicles down from the ships and to shore.
-          Enable transfer of fuel from tankers to shore, by means of proper fuel-transfer systems fitted to enable a tanker to moor alongside the barge and transfer fuel through an underwater, flexible pipeline reaching to a FOB ashore. 
-          Provide Role 3 hospital facilities in order to replace the capability currently provided by RFA Argus.
-          Suitable helicopter facilities for VERTREP and casualty transport operations, with flight deck sized for Chinook machines.
-          Ample aircraft facilities for storage, repair and mainteinance of helicopters up to Chinook size.
-          REME workshop for vehicle repair and mainteinance. Significantly, this vital service is not easy to set up from nothing: the Equipment Sustainability System of Camp Bastion has only come into service in late 2010, many years after operations in Afghanistan began. For years, vehicles needing significant overhaul had to be shipped all the way back to the UK for repairs. Where possible, a sea-based workshop capable to do at least medium-complexity work would greatly improve availability of vehicles to the frontline.
-          A container crane to offload container transports and some container-space on board of the barge.
-          Accommodation for the barge crew, REME and other personnel.
-          Links to a Lightweight Modular Causeway System or LCMS.    

The LCMS was covered by TD in his article about ship to shore connection. It is a compact system that fits in the footprint of 3 20' containers enough material to build a 120 feet long causeway. Unlike other systems, the LMCS uses no in-water connections. And in contrast to the current causeway systems (ELCAS) can be deployed by seven trained personnel and be operational in approximately 3 hours. An equal number of personnel can recover the system in approximately the same time. The system is stored in a folded configuration with floatation bladders empty. 

When deployed, the system is sequentially joined, or assembled, and the floatation bladders are inflated. The bladder nearest the shore can be partially inflated as needed to provide a ramp-like entry and exit point. A unique feature of the LMCS is that the floatation bladders will not be filled with high-pressure air. Instead, they will be rapidly filled with only the volume of air suitable to provide floatation for the roadway system. This significantly speeds up deployment times and can be done with a prepressurised compressed air system (similar to that used to inflate aircraft emergency exit slides) or with a lightweight portable blower system that is smaller than a commercial vacuum. LCMS has also investigated a powered system for dragging ISO Containers of 463L pallets along its length using a deployable winch system.

A speedy way to transport pallets and containers from ships to shore via LMCS

The Flo-Flo carrier

Dockwise's Mighty Servant ready to embark the next heavy load of her career, with her cargo deck lowered under the surface.

Whenever needed, the Flo-Flo transport vessel could be chartered from civilian contractors such as Dockwise, the world-leader in this sector, which offers a quite large fleet of vessels that would be capable to carry the barges.  The Flo-Flo are not fast, normally making 15 knots at most, but are lean-manned (around 50 men). One good example is the Migthty Servant 1, which is 190 metres long, 50 metres wide and has a maximum draught when submerged of 26 metres. The vessel has a deck space of 50 x 150 metres on which she is able to carry the heaviest semi-submersible drilling units, harsh environment deepwater jack-up rigs and large floating production platforms like TLPs, FPUs and Spars with drafts up to 14 metres. The Mighty Servant I is powered by two 6,770 kW Wärtsilä 12V38A diesel generator sets, driving two propellers by four E-motors of 3,100 Kw each which give the vessel a maximum speed of 15 knots. The vessel has a maximum sailing range of 59 days and is operated by Dockwise Shipping, Breda, The Netherlands.

Type I:
Average speed 11-12 knots, deck length 150-178m, 41,000-73,000 ton cargo capacity
The Blue Marlin and Mighty Servant are large, purpose-built, semi-submersible vessels with large flat decks and open sterns. These are capable of carrying the largest and heaviest cargoes in the Heavy marine transport market primarily because they are not limited by stern structures. For certain projects, such as the transport of spar buoys, there is at present no alternative to Type I vessels because of the sheer size of these buoys. In 2009, Type I vessels were primarily involved in transporting offshore structures, jack-up rigs and semi-submersible rigs. They are the vessels that primarily make Dockwise earn money.

Type II:
Average speed 12-13 knots, deck length 130-157m, 30,000-40,000 ton cargo capacity
Dockwise has 9 Type II vessels (Black Marlin, Mighty Servant 3, Transshelf, Transporter, Target, Treasure, Talisman, Trustee and Triumph). From these vessels, 3 are purpose built with an open stern (Black Marlin, Mighty Servant 3 and Transshelf), mainly used for the transportation of jack-up rigs and offshore structures and 6 are converted Suez max oil tankers (used for heavy marine transportation).

Type III:
Average speed 12-13 knots, deck length 130m, 15,000-20,000 ton cargo capacity
Four vessels (Swan, Swift, Tern and Teal) are in the type III category, which are smaller semi-submersible vessels with superstructures positioned on the stern. These vessels are principally employed in transporting small jack-up rigs, P&MI and smaller offshore structures.

Type IV and V:
Average speed 9-13 knots, deck length 117-119m, 4,000-9,000 ton cargo capacity
Dockwise has 2 Type IV vessels (Enterprise and Explorer), semi-submersible purpose-built dock-type vessels mainly used for P&MI, small offshore structures, and military cargoes and 2 Type V carriers, that are used specifically for yacht transport.

A Type 1 Flo-Flo vessel costs, in average, 120 million dollars to build. Dockwise’s ships have a 20 years life, but the company is spending 20.8 million dollars a year in refits that are reportedly lengthening the ship’s lives by up to 20 years. A Type IV can cost at little as 80 millions.
The Royal Navy does not need extreme cargo capacity, as the barges won’t weight so much, but an ample deck is necessary, and a decent speed is a desirable feature. A modified Type III vessel would probably fit the requirement perfectly. Fitted with more powerful engines, so to deliver a speed of 15 to 18 knots (ideally) so to be able to follow the pace of a task group, and with an ample, open deck for the carriage of the barges, a 90-100 USD million vessel would represent a perfect solution.

Typical costs of a vessel
Type (in USD millions)

Type I   - 120
Type II  - 100
Type III - 90
Type IV - 80

Source: SNS Securities research

With an average maintenance days of 45 per year, each ship can deliver 320 workable days, based on Dockwise’s commercial performance standards. With two vessels, the Navy would be largely covered, sure almost at 100% that at least one of the two vessels will be operable at all times. Ideally, the fleet should comprise three vessels, but since the money is at a premium, nothing is cheap enough, so I do not expect a triplet of ships to be possible. Excellent if it is, but I doubt of it: more likely that the availability of more transport vessels, if needed urgently, is pursued via contracts with Dockwise in case of emergency.

The barge approach offers advantages, though, that will help offset this problem: take for example RFA Diligence. She’s spending years in rows deployed abroad, in the gulf, with the crew rotating every few months but the ship always staying far away. In a memorable deployment around the world, she set sail from Portsmouth in 2001 and only returned 5 and half year later, in 2006, after visiting 25 different countries whilst steaming some 150,000 miles (241,000 km), through the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf, across the Indian Ocean to India, Sri Lanka and Singapore, the South China Sea to the Philippines and from South Africa across the Atlantic to the Falklands and South America. Mainly, however, Diligence and/or a Bay class LSD(A) have spent years in rows in the Gulf, supporting RN ships in transit and especially the forward-based minesweepers in Bahrain. We have to match THIS level of availability.

The Flo-Flo vessel could deploy the barge in an area of choosing, and, provided the availability of tugs to help disembark the huge load, put it in the water. The Flo-Flo would then retreat to the UK and be available to cover the JSBL role immediately after, with the barge staying deployed at sea for a long time. Besides, barges are slow, but not immobile (not all of them, at least, since some have limited self-deploying capability), so that the barge could make limited self-deployments, changing position in the main operations area as required. When mobility was required, the barge would not be disembarked, remaining mounted on the cargo deck: the Flo-Flo vessels are fitted with computer-assisted dynamic positioning system which can keep the vessel static in poor conditions, using the ship's range of thrusters and the variable-pitch propeller, just like Diligence, so that the operations are possible in all situations. 

Dockwise's Mighty Servant vessel is shown here while re-floating a massive barge, providing an example of what could be done with the OMAR and JSBL barges by the RFA.

In support of an amphibious operation, the Flo-Flo would first deploy far from the shore, and serve as a staging point for the assault, to speed up the formation of the attack waves and allowing equipment and troops to be moved from ship to ship within the task force, putting order in the ranks. The barge itself would have much of its huge flat deck covered with parked vehicles of the task force, and it could work as a base for hovercrafts, which could climb up the ramps in the front, embark in dry condition on the deck and charge off again towards the shore.
Once the harbor is made safe, after the first phases of the landing, the Flo-Flo would refloat, move into the bay as close to the shore as possible, and deploy the barge, which, connected with causeways to the shore, would become the first “port” in support of the operations. The Flo-Flo could remain, or retreat if the barge could be unloaded from deck safely. The problem is that this almost certainly would require tugs, and the navy notoriously ceased long ago to have its own deployable tugs.

The Flo-Flo vessel could also work as a mothership, carrying vessels as big as minesweepers and perhaps as big as the future MHPC, carrying two or three or even four vessels in their area of operations. Today, the Hunts and Sandowns make with their legs the long road to deploy from Portsmouth and Faslane to the Gulf, but their plastic hull and small sizes mean they do it with a certain amount of struggle. Deploy four Hunt at once on the deck of the big RFA Flo-Flo might be attractive. The US Navy did it quite a few times in different occasions.
It could also carry a swarm of Royal Marines’s (Future) Fast Patrol Boats in, say, Somalian waters to fight piracy in multiple directions at once, something a patrol boat cannot do on its own, being very short legged. 
There’s many possible uses for these versatile vessels. 

USS Cardinal and USS Raven, two minesweepers, have embarked as cargo on Dockwise's Blue Marvin Flo-Flo vessel in this image.
To keep both the Treasury and the UK shipbuilders happy, the Flo-Flo vessels would be built abroad, to commercial standard, and to the lowest possible cost, while the mission-specific barges could be built or at least kitted in the UK. Reflecting the Navy nature of the vessel, these would later be kitted with the necessary communications fit, a couple of light guns and machines guns for self-protection, as usual, and their excess berths would host a team of Marines from the P Protection squadron, RM Fleet Protection Group, and/or a “Green Team” of marines from S squadron, so to cover shipboarding duties during deployments.

The Barges

Barges can be used for a wide variety of tasks, and they can be quite massive and loaded with the most various equipment. There are commercial barges built for the most different tasks, and they provide a great starting point for the Joint Sea Base we want to obtain.

The barges we will use will be around 30 to 50 meters wide and 130 to 150 meters long. A larger barge would also be possible, with the size constraints being the cargo capacity of the Flo-Flo vessel that will be used to deploy the barge. I’d want the Royal Navy to buy two Flo-Flo vessels at commercial standard, one devoted to carrying the OMAR Forward Ship Repair barge and one to transport the JSBL barge. The barges would be of course compatible with both vessels. A length of 130 meters would make the barge compatible with even more carrying vessels, but while the OMAR could fit, the more ambitious JSBL “mobile base” might not fit overly well in such a constrained size. Width is less of a problem, since Flo-Flo vessels routinely carry loads far larger than their own beam.

OMAR - The Operational Maintenance And Repair barge would displace at least 3,5000 tonnes and have a length of 120 metres and a bean of 32 metres.  There would be a single story workshop of approximately 30 metres x 32 metres at one end and a 200-person two story accommodation block of similar dimensions at the other, separated by the open working area of about 60 metres  x 32 metres with the necessary cranes and equipment.  There would be a helicopter pad on the workshop, with the possibility of another on the accommodation block.  The OMAR would be obtained by converting a normal commercial maintenance barge, helping keeping costs down. This barge will be a “deployable naval base” to bring where it is needed. In order to provide forward repair and maintenance facilities to ships and submarines operating away from their home ports, the barge will also provide overside electrical supplies, fuel, water and sullage reception. RFA Diligence provides a large workshop facility for Royal Navy vessels, this is equipped with specialist machinery such as Arc welding equipment, lathes, pillar drills, grinders, band saws and a large store of spares.

The OMAR barge on the cargo deck of a Flo-Flo vessel in a BVT study.

Joint Sea Base and Logistics – this slight change in the name of the vessel type, I believe, gives a better idea of my ambitious vision for a deployable port. I’ve tried coming up with a design myself, and this is the result: 

The Joint Sea Base and Logistics barge with a Point Ro-Ro alongside.

Please consider that the scale of things in the drawing is approximated: I did my best, but it is not easy to keep everything in the correct proportions in the drawing. The barge is 150 meters long and 50 wide. Anyway, the main design drivers:

-          Ships must be able to come alongside, both Port and Starboard, and disembark their vehicles and supplies via Ro-Ro ramps and cranes. The drawing shows a Point class Ro-Ro with her side Ro-Ro ramp open and containers on the upper deck.
-          To work as a port in support of operations ashore, the JSBL barge must be able to deal with the flood of containers that will come in to support the troops after the landing is concluded and operations inshore start. I thought about fitting two container cranes, one on each side, but these things are bloody huge! A container crane can be 103 meters high and weight 1250 tons all alone, and they truly are massive things, so in my proposed design I’ve put in a single crane, of course mounted on rails as in port, and chosen a commercial-available crane. It is a Panamax, with a reach of 46 meters waterside, which means that it can load/unload a 14-rows transport vessel. A larger Post-Panamax crane could be fitted with a different deck arrangement, while a Super Post-Panamax (the latest generation of cranes lifting 4 containers at a time and with a 22 rows reach) might be really too big to fit at all. The crane I’ve chosen can lift one 40’ container or two 20’ containers at a time, moving 40 to 80 “boxes” per hour, which I think is not bad. It can place them down on the barge’s deck (backwards reach is 25 meters) or put the container on the back of a waiting truck beneath, in a never-ending row.
-          Landing craft-ops, drive-to-shore ops. The front of the barge is fitted with multiple (or one single large) ramps to which the landing crafts can come during an amphibious assault to embark troops and vehicles quickly and in an easier way than into well decks. The single large ramp would allow even the huge LCAC hovercraft landing crafts of the US Navy (and their future Ship to Shore Connector craft) to climb onto the barge’s deck to safely embark troops in dry condition.
After the “Assault” phase is over, Lightweight Modular Causeway System or LCMS would be assembled from the ramp directly to shore, and vehicles could just drive down it. This would allow trucks to wait under the container crane, receive their container, and then quickly drive ashore. The LCMS, fitted with the proper winch system, can move containers ashore on its own too. Sets of LCMS would be stored on the huge deck of the barge and deployed as soon as possible.
-          Self-Defence. The barge will be a high-value target for the enemy, and will be in harm’s way for a long time. Before a perimeter of defence is set up by the landing force, deploying SAM batteries at range, the barge will have to be protected by the Navy’s own SAMs, and by its own weapons. I’ve fitted my barge with container-launched CAMM missiles (they are radar-agnostic and can get feed with target tracking by any and all radars, and they are launched ‘cold’ by compressed air 100 feet up into the sky before their rocket engine even starts, so that they are easily deployed anywhere) and with 3 well-placed Phalanx 1B CIWS to give 360° degrees coverage. Light guns and machine guns would of course complete the protection against frogmen, fast boats and other threats.
-          Logistics. Massive workshop for REME and Engineers, fitted with extensive repay kit to support vehicles and kit maintenance. (the workshop in the drawing is located under the flight deck and at 28 x 40 meters it offers a good 1120 square meters of space. It would contain much of instruments that can be found in the container-deployable REME and Royal Engineers workshops, and more.
The barge’s hull would contain plenty of stores for the crew and for sustains operations ashore. The barge would also have tanks for potable water and connections for Reefer containers for the food and medicines.
The helicopters hangar would be Chinook capable, and also provide extensive maintenance facilities to maximize frontline availability of the machines.
-          The massive flight deck can take 3 Chinooks at once. A further helicopter spot or two could be on top of the superstructure, mainly for receiving casualties and injured soldiers bound for the on-board hospital even during intensive flight-deck ops, such as in the early hours of an amphibious op.
-          Hospital. Role 3 Joint Casualty Treatment facilities, with 100 to 200 beds, operating theaters, first aid posts and other facilities. This capability will replace RFA Argus’s current interim hospital capability.
-          Accommodations. Berths for the crew, the REME and Royal Engineers embarked, and space for troops.

Of course, this is my personal proposal/try at it. I tried to put into this barge the extensive facilities most needed to support both Humanitarian relief and military ops, while providing a solution that also works as Auxiliary Aviation Ship and Hospital Ship (RFA Argus replacement), to maximize return from the investment.    


Cost estimates and other data about Flo-Flo and Dockwise: analysis 


  1. Gabriele

    I really like the idea! Shows great potential for the future and really good innovation.

    1. Thanks. It would go along well with the OMAR approach that was reportedly the Navy's favorite option for replacing Diligence.

    2. Gabriele

      It sure would! I also like the JSBL idea and would it be possible to use this type of idea for the Argus replacement?

    3. In a way, yes. My proposed barge includes significant medical treatment facilities, equaling or better than Argus's. Deploying to the area of operations, and potentially staying for a very long time once unloaded from the FLO-FLO vessel, the platform would be an excellent Role 3 hospital capable to receive casualties directtly from the battle area.

      Replacing Argus in the auxiliary aviation ship, mainly for the training role, would be a bit more tricky. The barge offers ample space for accomodating crews, provide some classrooms and operational spaces and, of course, aircraft storage and maintenance, but once you pile up too many roles on the same vessel, things overheat.
      Problems might include unavailability of the barge for training cruises, because it is needed for another role or for forward deployment, and also problems in the provvision of classrooms and other training-related operational spaces, that can only be provided, obviously, re-roling some accommodation spaces or other areas.

    4. Gabriele

      Yes that was what exactly I was worrying about!

      What would you suggest?

      Maybe a small container ship conversion?

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