The 4th Batch II River-class OPV, HMS Tamar spent the last week in the high profile berth alongside HMS Belfast in London. We visited the ship to hear about her progress.
HMS Tamar sailed from BAE Systems yard in Glasgow on 27 March, as the yard was going into lockdown the decision was made to go to sea ahead of schedule. Assurance checks that might typically take four weeks were conducted concurrently in a single week and some non-essential work was left to be completed by the contractor at a later date.
HMS Tamar’s crew remained in a COVID-secure ‘bubble’, putting in extended working hours and spending 13 out of 17 weeks at sea. The ship has achieved what is believed to be the fastest generation of a warship in peacetime. Tamar completed, trials work up before conducting a flag-hoisting ceremony on the river Tamar on 4 June 2020. (A formal commissioning ceremony will be held with friends, family and affiliates at a later date as restrictions allow.) She passed Fleet Operational Sea Training and was declared ready for operations in August.
The average age of the ship’s officers is younger than a typical wardroom and is something of a ‘millennial ship’ which has developed a very proactive and independent approach to problem-solving. The OPVs normally operate a rotating 3-watch crewing model but for now, Tamar has fixed manning which helps establish the ethos and personality which can last the lifetime of a ship. Active on social media, the distinctive lions on her side, and the visit to London have helped raised the ship’s public profile.
HMS Tamar is the newest and also the ‘greenest’ surface ship in the RN as the first vessel to conform to new MARPOL emissions regulations. Her diesel exhausts are fitted with catalytic converters which reduce nitrogen-based emissions by up to 95%. All subsequent warships, including HMS Spey, the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates will be designed to meet this new standard.
While in London, the ship remains subject to strict COVID protection procedures. Visitors must practise social distancing on the upper deck and wear masks below decks. A cleaning team frequently disinfects communal areas and the crew are subject to regular testing and must isolate if exhibiting any symptoms.HMS-Tamar-General-Arrangement-1
More details about the Batch II OPVs and photos taken on board HMS Medway can be found in the previous article here.
There has been much comment about the light armament of the OPVs in relation to their size and cost. The ships have the capacity for additional conventional weapons, but a more likely and sensible scenario is the use of off-board systems. The first Type 26 and Type 31 frigates with their flexible mission bay will not be operational until 2027 but in the meantime, the new OPVs could potentially step up to offer some of that capability with embarked boats and containerised autonomous systems.
The OPVs lack a conventional hangar but there is space on each waist for TEU containers and a large flight deck. On display in London, HMS Tamar demonstrated how they might load a selection of Royal Marine assault craft which could be employed in the littoral strike role. Below the flight deck is accommodation designed for an embarked military force of 50 personnel and more could be carried in austere conditions.
This is in line with the development of the Royal Marine’s Future Commando Force model which sees troops increasingly forward-deployed on warships in smaller teams. These units would be networked and rely much more on technology, new weapons and autonomous systems as force multipliers. The ship’s company of HMS Tamar is excited to be involved with new innovation and some of these technology demonstrators were on show to visitors while the ship was in the capital.
The current generation of autonomous systems being trialled by the RN excels at reconnaissance and intelligence gathering but increasingly they will also become weapon delivery platforms. This has important implications for warships with a light baseline equipment fit such as the OPVs or Type 31s.
The RN is making determined strides to accelerate the adoption of new technologies with programmes such as Project Nelson, NavyX, MarWorks and the Percy Hobart Fellowship. The goal is to use the model of civilian start-up enterprises to rapidly bring emerging new technologies to the front line.
After leaving London, HMS Tamar will sail for Falmouth where she will undergo a 7-week maintenance period and minor snagging work will be completed by the contractors. Beyond that, her programme is undecided, although as part of the new Overseas Patrol Ship Squadron, she is likely to be semi-permanently, forward-deployed away from the UK in the near future.
You can follow the ship’s progress on Twitter @hms_tamar.