The Royal Navy’s new experimental trials vessel was formally named at a ceremony in Portsmouth on 29th July. In a follow-up to our previous article, we went onboard for a closer look and spoke with her Commanding Officer and head of NavyX.
Despite being a modest size trials platform, the RN put on quite a show for the naming ceremony – attended by the First Lord and various dignitaries including the granddaughter of Patrick Blackett who officially named the vessel. The RN is keen to show off the XV and its potential to industry, academia, SMEs, inventors and partner navies who may be invited to participate in future development work onboard.
In keeping with the theme of innovation, a Boston Dynamics Spot robot ‘dog’ was used to pull the rope to release the champagne bottle against to bow. The robot performed as expected but unfortunately, the bottle failed to break when it struck the bow… The procedure had worked fine in rehearsal but this kind of teething problem is perhaps in keeping with fast to fail iterative experimental development philosophy of NavyX.
Once NavyX had decided they needed their own trials platform, various ownership models were considered including chartering a commercial ship. The conclusion was that in the long term it is far more flexible and cheaper for the RN to own and crew the vessel themselves. The MoD Salvage and Marine Operations (SALMO) Project Team was commissioned to identify suitable vessels. About 9 possible options were available worldwide but the Damen 4008 was selected primarily because it was brand new and has a generous size working deck. The XV was described by Admiral Parkin as “sitting in the sweet spot between small/fast while being a platform large enough to put 4 containers on the back”. The axe-bow design was not a specific requirement but the performance of this hull design will be studied with interest.
Instead of furloughing staff, Damen continued to construct vessels throughout the pandemic even without specific orders, confident that they would find customers. The XV is the first Damen product sold directly to the RN, although they have built many of the naval bases harbour tugs and support vessels operated by Serco. The purchase price for the vessel itself was £6.5M plus there is a 4-year support and maintenance contract with Damen.
The ship’s company have completed a 6-week training course with Damen that went beyond just operating the ship and included gaining a deeper understanding of the systems on board so they are qualified to train future users. Coinciding with the summer leave period, the XV will now be alongside for sometime. There is documentation that has to be submitted to the Defence Maritime Regulator to prove the RN has safe operating procedures. Once the regulatory frameworks for this unique vessel are in place there will be a period of proving the ship before experimentation work begins as the crew get to grips with the routines for sailing her.
The XV itself will provide valuable lessons for the RN as a vessel with very different technology from typical warships. The level of automation on board is already very high and provides useful insight into leading-edge commercial practice and a stepping stone on the way toward fully autonomous ships. The data from sensors on board, the platform management system (PMS) navigational aids, GPS etc are all fed onto a server onboard which allows for analysis and would make it technically relatively straightforward for the XV itself to be operated autonomously or remotely. The technology for uncrewed vehicles is increasingly mature but the regulations lag behind. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is not expected to produce a definitive standard for uncrewed vessels for another 5 years at least. With the investment in the XV, the RN sees an opportunity to become the leading navy in autonomous systems, in Europe at least.
The low-key PODs (Persistent Operational Deployment Systems) concept has continued to progress since it was announced last year. The RN understands the need for more rapid capability upgrades and interchangeability rather than being constrained by the features of warships designed several decades ago. PODs is a funded programme that has gone through concept and assessment and is now in the design phase. Each POD is intended to have common power and data interfaces with an open digital architecture that allows the host platform to interface with whatever the POD contains automatically. Support for PODs will be embedded from the outset in the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates and their capabilities are likely to be developed further in the Type 32 frigate design.
There will be many applications but an early user requirement is a system for launching small UAVs that avoids restricting operations from the main flight deck. NavyX now has 7 prototype PODs on contract for delivery and the XV will be heavily utilised in their evaluation.
In his speech at the naming ceremony, Rear Admiral Parkin highlighted the number of experimental vessels associated with RN innovation. These include HMS Rattler (1843), the first warship fitted with a screw propellor, HMS Warrior (1861), the first iron-hulled warship, HMS Viper (1900) the first warship fitted with steam turbines. Multiple battleship and aircraft carrier innovations in the 20th century and more recently, HMS Matapan (1973) converted as a sonar trails ship and RV Trition (2000) an experimental trimaran hull form. The XV is a signal the RN has returned to taking innovation seriously again.
why the marine, for heavy lifting?
Someone has to repel the masses!!
Impressive is the comment that “…The original liquid cargo tanks at the stern have been converted to additional fuel tanks, giving the XV a range of over 6,000 nautical miles if such long transits were ever needed.”
42 m long small vessel with 6000+ nm, coupled with Axe-bow low acceleration characteristics, looks like a great opportunity. How about buying another 2 or 3 Damen FCS 4008 (let’s build it at Appledor or Mersyside), and sending them to Caribbean?
Ideal build at Appledore, truth be known, could upscale to the proper Corvette style weight and build at least two side by side, and re ignite naval warship building in England again. Quite why everything has to be built in Scotland I’ll never know, Their Political leaders seem to either hate us or don’t even want to say thanks for all the employment and revenue they gain whilst England has nothing apart from the painfully slow roll out of sinky boats.
Its 180 tonnes DWT. Theres no ‘upscaling’ required , the idea is quite ridiculous
Even the smallest Damen warship design , below their Corvette option ( 91m) , the ‘fast combatant’ is 61 m
Why does everything else get built in England? To say England
has nothing is wrong! Ask BAE and Babcock why they are in Scotland
Why do need 2 more patrol ships in the Caribbean?
If anything the U.K. could do with an “aid ship” capable of supporting helicopters and putting engineer plant and relief supplies across a beach or into a damaged port.
Just an idea.
Two Damen FCS 4208 vessels to replace HMS Medway. 18×2 = 36 crew, no increase.
Two 24-30knots vessels with good see-keeping (not as good as River B2, of course), will be better in counter smuggler operations.
In Hurricane season, a big ship will come to help them (the same to now). Two FCS will provide support to minor locations, in corporation with the big ship.
And, what is more, within a few years, River B2s will be going into long maintenance. It it is as short as a half a year, 5 ships need 2.5 years. Relieving Medway will enable other assets to remain at their tasks.
Yes, 6th River B2 can do most of the tasks shown here. But, if Damen FCS 4208 also be adopted as UKBF cutters, then commonality will help a bit.
Anyway, just one possibility.
One issue with ships this size is the lack of social space for the crew. If you were to be able to put two sea boats in the water for boarding ops and run the ship away from home base your going to need a crew of 25/30 and not 18. You could do Caribbean patrol with something smaller than a B2, but it would need to be much bigger than this for the accommodation to be up to par for today’s RN.
Your are right.
So, if it is 18, it can operate only one RHIBs. The second asset to support boarding will be the FCS 4008 itself. River B2 is too large to do this, but I think FCS4008 can.
If you need more, just send two FCS 4008s. Even with two hull with 18 crews each, the total crew size is the same to that of River B2.
And, if it is 18, I understand FCS4008 has large enough accommodation area.
“Support for PODs will be embedded from the outset in the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates”
That’s good news.
Jeesus, that’s way plusher than in my days.
That’s a serious captains chair. Almost like a waterborne typhoon seat.
I didn’t see a cup holder for the Kye though..
New Italian PPA class.
Yeah that was quite a surprise. An behind it a sort of elevated position like the Enterprise bridge in Star Trek.
I couldn’t find a really nice pic to convey what it looks like. But it is fantastic. This is a rendering of the layout sort of ………
I remember my dad being disappointed with the bridge of Type 22’s when I took on a Navy Days visit. He had never been near a warship before. He found it less than impressive. He did like the bridge of the River class. I did explain that the bridge didn’t really perform much of a function now beyond a conning position. I went on to talk about RN experiments fitting frigates with periscopes in ops. And of course submarines had the teeniest tiny bridges of all.
Yeah that was the image i saw too, thanks.
The position is the commander btw.
6,000 nm. a just in case or for a actual operational need?
They might want to run out somewhere and test something persistently?
I don’t think all these drones will all be four hour duration battery power jobs. There will be fuel cells to trickle recharge with high power batteries for burst. May not be hydrogen fuel cells but methanol as per early NASA ones?
If you needed to test something the was difficult to ship in different climatic conditions to those in the U.K.then you might need to send this ship to the conditions.
I looked up what became of the research vessel Triton, and if anyone wants it, it’s for sale. I wonder what happened to the idea of multihulls. It seemed to be in fashion for a while in the 2020s with Triton, the Independence class, and the Russian hull-and-a-half carrier design, but nobody’s offering them as naval designs anymore.
*correction: in the 2000s
They offer no room for modification. The short fat superstructure isn’t ideal for sensor and weapon arcs.
There was some consideration given to buying Triton for Navy X. Trouble was, she’s now an old ship, needs more crew and the owners wanted a hefty wedge, related to purchase of Gardline by Boskalis.
Never a runner, beyond one or two fevered imaginations. What is interesting is that Navy X allegedly used SALMO as their customer friend, as opposed to the IFC mafia.
Interesting article, would be really great to see an article about “server” installations in the RN i.e. the IT components of various fighting ships, which has never been covered. I read in passing that the Ford has the equivalent of a current supercomputer on board, it would be interesting to see how the QE class compare. As an aside I also read recently that the MOD received their first Quantum computer this year. Any news on that?
Good luck with that! I suspect security would say NO.
In general, the RN does not release information about its IT systems for obvious reasons. It is possible that on the XV the set-up will be like typical commercial systems and its details shared more widely than usual for the benefit of industry and other partners utilising the platform for trials.
As someone who worked in IT (Risk Management) I don’t think an holistic description of system and type of platforms used and levels of development are going to be of any danger to systems integrity.
You could read the Defence Digital strategy, a new release of which should be coming out sometime soon. It’s largely a rehash of NEC from the noughties, which was cancelled (remember the “we only need six T45s because they’ll be networked and awesome” thing?), but it made a comeback a couple of years ago. It doesn’t have the detail you might be looking for, it’s more aspirational and buzzword laden, but cross-service networked capability would be very welcome if they can pull it off this time. There’s also a data strategy and an AI strategy that I’ve been meaning to get around to.
Could you land a wildcat on the back for vertical replenishment and evacuation ? I get it doesn’t have facilities to actually embark for long periods.
Certainly not with the current rails. In the unlikely event of replenishment it like rescue would be done via winch.
The working deck is not designed for the operation of crewed helicopters (there is no need anyway) but it’s quite likley small-medium size UAVs will be launched from the XV.