British ship design and systems engineering house, BMT recently unveiled the ELLIDA Multi-Role Support Ship design. This is the latest in a series of vessel concepts intended to meet the potential requirements of a variety of navies. Here we look at ELLIDA in detail and whether if offers options the RN should consider.
ELLIDA is primarily a logistics ship with considerable capacity to carry solid stores and flexible options for loading, transferring or unloading. ELLIDA could be constructed at a variety of sizes between 120m – 200m in length, depending on customer needs (The version illustrated and discussed here is the largest 200m version). The centre of the ship has two vehicle decks with about 700 lane-metres of internal vehicle storage. The vehicle deck is accessed by a side ramp and is connected by internal ramps to the flight deck and weather deck. The forward weather deck has about 300 lane-metres for vehicles or space for up to 24 TEU containers.
The vehicle deck leads aft to the floodable well deck at the stern that has the capacity for two landing craft. 350 troops can be accommodated and wide access passages for the movement of fully-equipped troops are provided. ELLIDA could be deployed in a similar manner to the Bay Class RFAs as an auxiliary landing ship to support amphibious operations although ELLIDA 200 has a wider well dock and greater stores capacity than the LSD(A).
Auxiliary amphibious vessels are not intended to spearhead an assault but instead provide follow-on forces after a beachhead has been secured and logistic support to sustain troops ashore. The RN is currently in the process of re-thinking its amphibious warfare concept of operations for what it now calls Littoral Strike. Ship-to-shore connectors of some kind will still be needed but in the era of precision weapons, the days of slow landing craft directly storming defended beaches are probably over. Whatever shape future amphibious platforms take, there will still be a need for logistic support and means to deliver heavy equipment and stores ashore that cannot be transported by air.
ELLIDA has a different hull form to the Tide Class oil tankers but is similarly capable of 18-knots, propelled by an efficient combined diesel-electric hybrid (CODED) system on two shafts. Direct-drive diesel (CODAD) is also an option for navies on a tight budget.
2-tonne RAS rigs are designed for the transfer of provisions from reefers (Refrigerated containers) on the foredeck of vehicle deck. ELLIDA is not equipped as a complete Fleet Solid Support ship, lacking compliant ammunition storage facilities. However, the ability to transfer some solid stores is another useful capability of this multi-role vessel and an attractive option for navies that can’t afford a dedicated FSS ship. Alternatively, liquid replenishment rigs could be fitted instead if the lower vehicle deck was converted into oil storage tanks.
ELLIDA for the Royal Navy?
BMT concept images are usually presented with markings, paint scheme and equipment fit as if configured RN or RFA service. The company says this is just a reflection of being a British firm and the high regard in which the RN is held but does not mean the designs are pitched particularly at the UK market. ELLIDA was developed in the latter part of 2018 and was not intended as an answer to the Future Littoral Strike Ship (FLSS) requirement announced in February 2019. FLSS is intended to be a rapid and relatively cheap programme, likely to utilise existing merchant ships. An ELLIDA-based solution would have to be constructed from scratch and has a greater logistic capability than FLSS demands.
Perhaps the best fit would be a replacement for RFA Argus. ELLIDA could fulfil the aviation training and Primary Casualty Receiving ship roles of Argus while also offering an additional logistic capability similar to a Bay Class vessel. Unfortunately, there is no budget line or plan to replace Argus when she finally leaves RFA service in 2024. Even if funds are found, then another (cheaper) merchant conversion is more likely. There are initiatives underway to build a UK aid ship or hospital ship, possibly paid for by DfID or Crowdfunding. An adapted version of ELLIDA would be very well suited to this mission. Both RN and RFA platforms continually operate with great versatility in a wide range of roles but most vessels were designed and built with one primary mission in mind. There is not a great history of the UK procuring multi-role ships but ELLIDA at least offers an opportunity to consider how multiple capabilities can be derived from one hull.
From concepts to reality
It may seem easy to produce computer-generated images of naval vessel designs that stimulate discussion but never go any further. However BMT has a business strategy that invests in these concepts as a starting point for conversations with international customers and showcases their naval architecture expertise. ELLIDA is the latest in a series that includes; AEGIR (support tanker), SALVAS (submarine rescue/salvage/towing/diving support), VENARI-85 (Minehunter-OPV hybrid) and VENATOR-110 (light frigate). The AEGIR family of vessels formed the basis of the 4 Tide class tankers in service with the RFA and the smaller HNoMS Maud serving with the Royal Norwegian Navy.
It is unlikely ‘Tier-1’ or ‘Tier 2’ navies would purchase a concept straight off the shelf and BMT would expect to modify and tailor the design to meet the needs of each customer. BMT are not primarily a ‘complete ship designer’ but have had considerable involvement with many aspects of RN vessel design over the years. It is certainly in the interests of the RN to have thriving independent UK architecture practices that also have experience exporting their expertise overseas.