Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

I think it would be a great use of foreign aid, in a way that would benefit us directly if we build them in Britain. Nightingale would be a great name I think. I also think we should build a royal yacht to showcase modern British shipbuilding and to showcase Britain around the globe generally which will definitely be needed post Brexit.

Expat sparkie

What’s wrong with RFA Maine – been the RFA hospital ship name since 1905, HMS Mine during the Boar War


What did the Boars ever do to us?? 🙂

Cam Hunter

Yes we should, and we should build two of these ships so there’s always one available and two if really needed , and we should also fund it from the Aid budget, we can easily afford it, it’s just political will that will be the deciding factor. These ships are great ambassadors and the AID budget should be spent as much in the UK as can be.

We should also be thinking about the new big ships the RN and RFA will need to replace soonish, but god I hope the government doesn’t cut any more ships from our already slashed RFA and Navy. We need two Albion class replacements, the 3 bay class will need to be replaced in a decade or so, RFA argus needs replaced soon, there’s also the 3 solid suport ships being built soon, that’s 9 big ships minimum needing to be built soon, we should have a dedicated yard or two in the UK for big ship building like Rosyth in Scotland or on the Mersey and we could build 2 ships at a time and keep the workforce building at a steady pace and once they are built we will need to be building more replacement ships so just keep building at that rate and you never know the workforce might get more efficient and could start building for export once again. Appledore in Dorset built 5 Navy ships for Ireland recently but they ran out of orders so have closed! This shouldn’t happen and the government could have given them orders easily but the government seem to want to kill the industry, we haven’t got many yards building ships now so we need to support the ones we do have. That would be better for the industry rather than chaotic building timelines that makes yards go out of business, we can do it but I just don’t know why we don’t!


It would be nice if Argus got a direct replacement, but if push comes to shove then these two hospital ships are a better investment of manpower. They replace Argus’s hospital role, and if they free a Bay class from the Carribbean then that could be used as a makeshift helicopter training ship (not ideal, I know, but better than nothing).

Conveniently, Cammel Laird and Rosyth are the two yards in the UK best suited to large ship construction, so whichever site wins T31 could be supported with RFA contracts (logical, but probably won’t happen like that knowing our luck).

Regarding Appledore, there wasn’t anything practical the government could’ve done. There aren’t any programmes that could’ve gone there on such short notice, and Babcock failed to attract the foreign orders it was hoping for.

Anthony Gilroy

Callum I am afraid that is not quite the truth of it. In terms of proper orders and not just payment for retention (which the RN did offer from memory to keep Appledore available for Type 31). Another 3 batch 2 (Batch 3 with a hanger?) OPVs would have been just fine and well within Appledores remit. Hell even if we ordered 4 Batch 2 for a 1 for 1 replacement of the 4 batch 1 OPVs that would have worked. Giving us 9 Batch 2 OPVs without further stress on manpower (although OPVs are not usually considered a bad draft to be perfectly honest so a total of 12 OPVs would possibly aid retention and therefore boost total manpower, also OPVs at home are perfect for our under utilised RNR).

I digress a little but sadly the Government could have definitely helped Appeldore just fine. Babcock are ultimately to blame of course (BM and BAE are both too used to UK GOV safeguard IMHO which has made them lazy) but the strategic implications are a bit dissapointing.

Frankly we need to be churning out 1 OPV/FPV, 2 MHPC (Mine, Hydrographic and Patrol Capability), 1 FF GP, 1 FFG/DDG, 1 SSN/SSK/SSBN, 1 Big ship each year IMHO. Which would force a steady and sustainable drum beat of orders across OPV, FF GP, FFG, DDG, SSN, SSK, SSBN, LPD, LPH, CV, LSD and RFAs.

I’d personally amalgamate the command and logistics structure of the Boarder Force and the RNR as well. Border force does a lot at home or with day running and therefore RNR can help with that. With the ships above the OPV/FPV could be manned predominantly by RNR with key positions suplemented by RN and Border Force/Customs embarked as required.

I’m in danger of rambling right now but ultimately the fact is, we need to have a steady drumbeat yes but we also need to do things more intelligently (Why are the P2000s not being used to assist with the channel migrant crisis for example).


I made a point of saying there was nothing PRACTICAL the government could’ve done to save Appledore at such short notice.

Example of not practical: ordering more expensive BAE-licensed OPVs, this time from Babcock, would cost several hundred million that the MoD can’t afford. To save Appledore would’ve meant sacrificing frigates, Lightnings, or some other important assets.

Anthony Gilroy

How so Callum? The Batch 1 OPVs don’t have the flight deck and refueling capability of the Batch 2 and the cost of the Batch 2 is not hideous in UK military terms. I’m afraid I gotta say a wholesale overhaul of the Batch 1 with Batch 2 would be both PRACTICAL and in keeping of the NSBS


First issue: the Rivers are a BAE product. You can’t just contract a different company to build someone else’s design. At the very least, you’d have to pay a licensing fee to BAE, and even then they’re unlikely to let anyone do the fitting out as it’s all proprietary.

Second issue: the contract for the last 2 Batch 2 OPVs was £287m (granted that also included maintenance for the class). They average around £120m per ship, and that’s not accounting for any additional charge BAE made for using their design. At a time when the defence budget is threadbare and important programmes are struggling, you want to spend several hundred million on a few OPVs to keep an uncompetitive yard open.

That’s not practical by any definition. I wish there was a way to have saved Appledore, but wasting funding on keeping a yard open isn’t the right call.

Anthony Gilroy

Callum, while I agree with a lot of what you say. I disagree with this: “I wish there was a way to have saved Appledore, but wasting funding on keeping a yard open isn’t the right call.”

Hard Industry is a key component of a healthy economy, and one that can better weather recession (look at how well the Germans weathered the recession). Furthermore the more you can provide end to end production for key items required to sustain your country (shipbuilding is one of those) the more self sufficient you are. Something that is becoming increasingly important, like it or not!

I would argue that the National Ship Building Strategy is an example that validates my opinions here and therefore the maintenance of the Appledore shipyard either through RFA, Border Force, RNR, RN or Merchant vessel building should have been a matter of priority. Even more so given it is NOT BAES and therefore encourages COMPETITION.

BAE are not good for the UK military and a massive let down. A company more focussed on exploitation of their “government protected” stance than genuine engineering and competitive practice. The more we can force them to change towards that… the better.

Hell, although I said the Batch 2 we could have used a BM design very similar to the Irish Corvettes and simply paid BAE for the CS installation and maintenance (which we pay them for on other units so the overheads would be cheap. If not, BM do a lot of our maintenance and fleet refit work anway so we can use them. Or Thales who do some good work with our sensors. Or QinetiQ who are also a joy to work with).

As it is, another non BAES yard closes and the monopoly and poor value for money bemouth that is BAES grows closer again to getting yet another head to the hydra with Type 31/ MHC because of the reduction in capacity to BM this represents.

Michael Ellis

Short hand / abbreviations not helpful for the non-Military trying to understand the arguments.

Meirion X

Appledore is big enough to assemble the
Type-26 Frigate in a covered yard(200m). So why not ship out sections/blocks made at Govan for Final Assembly at Appledore, and to be fitted out there! The Type 26 Frigates are to be assembled uncovered outside at Govan yard.
Of cause, Govan maybe the ideal place to manufacture sections/blocks of warships! Maybe assembly at Appledore instead wiil allow other work to take place at Govan unhindered. There will be no excuse of capacity at Govan of why Type 26 Frigate build taking so long!


Two key issues with that.

1) Appledore is already gone. While it’s technically still open at time of writing, it’ll be officially closed by April if memory serves. It’ll be over a year, at least, before there would be any assembly work for them.

2) an already delayed and overcosted programme, and you want to add in the additional cost and time of shipping blocks down the length of the country for assembly, which would then eventually have to be shipped back to the Clyde for BAE to do the fitting out. Which also brings up the issue of violating the existing contract with BAE

Anthony Gilroy

Agree with Callum here:

Appledore would best be served by rapid insertion of building if we wanted to keep it. That probably means Batch 2 River OPV are most suitable. Having seen Appledore facilities if you really wanted to keep it you could possibly order another 3 Batch 2 River OPV and have them done in time for Appledore to take some Type 31 and/or MHC (whatever that turns out to be).

The issue is the RN manpower is not set to rise (which it needs to) to actually facilitate the NSBS. Which therefore makes the NSBS ultimately pointless!


Appledore is gone for MOD work and should be going in a different direction in the future. Appledores built great OPVs for around 40 odd million, Carrier curved sections and specialized commercial ships. Appledore’s future is different from BAE and Babcock, as was Portsmouth’s VT shipyard. The only difference was that BAE could manipulate the future of Portsmouth with the government. babcock would like like to but maybe do not see Appledore as a potential competitor to them.

Wil iWill

The UK government has shifted the terms, warships and naval stock can be built outside of the UK, and, considering the coats, the government would most likely choose overseas yards to build our hospital and support ships.. they have form

Iqbal Ahmed

This is a balanced and well argued article in favour of a multi-purpose ship that can both be used to provide humanitarian support in an ever fractured and fragile world and support to the navy in time of war.

The ship could be crewed by a combination of naval auxiliary personnel, DFID and third sector personnel. With DFID reimbursing native departments for staff rotation. It would be a great way of garnering experience for the crew. A way to reconnect the public with the armed forces after the debacles of Afghanistan and Iraq.

However, we have to also be cognisant of potential political and military repercussions of our unarmed ships literally sailing into troubled waters. As shown by recent tensions stocked by a US Naval hospital ship providing free medical care to destitute Venezuelans. The regime in Caracas was not appreciative, to say the least!

There has been some mention of a reconstituted Royal Yacht, below the line, which I think totally misreads the mood of the country. A plaything for our jetsetting Royals at a time of austerity, north-south divide, Scots and Welsh nationalist resurgence and general political polarisation caused by potential Brexit is not a good idea. If we make things to sell that are better than the competition, buyers will not need a yacht to persuade them to buy from us.

Harry Bulpit

We should definitely build one of these “aid ships” not hospital ships however, i think it should have as little connection as possible to the military. Have it crewed by truly civilian staff like a regular cargo ship not by the RFA. Have most of the medical staff be NHS or charitable doctors with 1 or 2 military one’s, a couple of miltary engineers, and any security both armed or unarmed should be done by police. The only role the military should provide, is possibly a Merlin if a coast guard helicopter isn’t suitable and possibly crew for a LCU. I only say this as firstly it frees up miltary resources and personal and secondly will help with the almost certain complaint of the forign aid budget being spent on war machines.


The term “hospital ship” is carefully defined legally. This definition is very limiting. I don’t believe they would technically or officially known by this term in service, but would still be reported as such in the media and called by this name in general conversation.

Thus, I think the project would need to establish a media friendly name that encompasses the purpose of these ships without hamstringing them under a legal definition. I can’t think of a better term than Disaster Relief Ship. It may seem over simplified but sells well as a name that explains itself and has a certain “x factor” thanks to the words ‘disaster’ and ‘relief’.

Anthony Gilroy

Harry Bulpit.

What you say makes a lot of sense but some food for thought is this. The RFA covering WIGs, BF/Customs covering home running, your new hospital ship covering humanitarian aid takes a lot of the “clean and satisfying jobs with good runs ashore” away from the Navy. That will hurt retention because what you are saying is “The RN should only ever be at sea preparing for war, practicing for war, doing long deployments to give me value for money as a tax payer”. In a modern world where people are used to constant comms and social media etcetc your designed role for the RN only further stresses them.

I’d suggest that given the Foreign Aid Budget comes from under the Defence Budget it is not unreasonable for the Military and SoSD to want to gain some benefit from Foreign Economic Aid costing him almost 18% of his budget (and a large percentage of the 2% NATO target btw!)

Harry Bulpit

You make some fair arrangements. But in a realistic scenario if a ship is not deployed and is therefore available for disaster relief, in most situations it hopefully would be used. meaning that the RN or RFA crew aboard that vessel will still be able to assist in the disaster relief and the mod can still take some good pr photos. However, if all are ships are deployed then the sailers will be happy anyway as they will be visiting ports on their way through what ever mostly exotic places they will be travelling through. While at the same time we would still have a world beating humantarian support ship largely independent of any more important military needs.


I am fully behind the principle but wary of the pitfalls. I am not in favour of a Hospital Ship but a general purpose, highly configurable platform which could be ‘all hospital’ or ‘all aid’ or in extremis ‘all RFA’ .

Personally I think the Karel Doorman is an ideal multi purpose ship. This would be a great opportunity to rethink the replacement of the SSS in mid twenties. Instead of 2-3 new SSS why not focus plans on 8-10 new Karel Doormans with using the ‘Aid ship’ as the first in class to replace all of the Forts, Bays, Waves, Ocean & Argus.

Each is more flexible than any they replace and would do more for RN & UK capability & efficiency (not to mention UK shipbuilding) than doubling the number of T-26s.


Someone once commented that overseas aid is money taken from poor people in rich countries and given to rich people in poor countries. I certainly agree with the idea provided that the ship(s) are built in the UK.


Given the UK is running an annual deficit with its budget, overseas aid is more accurately described… “money borrowed by the government from international money markets; the interest on which is paid by the taxpayer, which is then frittered away on virtue signalling projects in the third world that have no long term benefit”.


they should be built in Scotland, anything else would be a betrayal of Scottish shipbuilders and what was promised to the Clyde etc. etc. I can hear it now

Anthony Gilroy

Haha Combatwombat, in a board that is all too often serious (with good reason) that brought a smile to my face! 🙂


Interesting one and a good litmus test for how confident the government of the day turns out to be as the idea matures:

There’s a good chance it is a non-starter for the reason highlighted around the optics of putting money into this while (justified) grievances with the NHS abound. It’s doesnt matter how much extra is spent in the NHS, someone will always feel like they are hard done-by and the political noise an opposition can make on an emotive topic like this makes it too toxic to be worth it.

On the other hand, it could be bundled together with post-Brexit immigration controls and spun that we’re essentially investing in keeping 3rd world people at home (a lot like the incumbents in Italy and Hungary are currently saying). It’s risky and could easily backfire with those of a more liberal bent so would need ‘balls’.

Question is, does anyone ‘ave ‘em?

Andy Tiller

I think this is a great idea. It would be even better if built in the UK to support a dwindling shipbuilding industry. Funding by DFID would be great as it would provide an ongoing benefit to countries around the world which sadly regularly suffer natural disasters and free up naval capacity for their main role. This ship or ships should be built in the UK together with the R F A support ships. To support this please sign this petition


I am a massive fan of the Dutch JLSS design and think the UK should build 14 of these, some of which should be put into a fleet of 4 humanitarian vessels, I would even go as far as stating the can be operated by MSF or the Red Cross, with a core RFA crew.

The beauty of this design is that it allows us to standardise on a joint support and amphibious platform and gives us some much needed depth, if we actually did need them, it also gives us the opportunity to build a replacement fleet in the UK over the next 25 years at 1 ships every 18 months, replacing all our RFA’s (except TIde class) and the Albion’s and Argus.

As for replenishment at sea needs – maybe it is not needed in the main, but the ability to transport fuel and water as well as have 6 helicopters or 2 chinooks on station must be a good point.

Lastly I also think the UK should be building containerised homes and producing food for humanitarian needs (50% of UK root crop not lifted each year) to help ensure our farmers get an income stream, food is not wasted and actually those in need get good quality British produce.

IF the OECD doesn’t like this – then we should really do what everyone else does and not commit to 0.7%.

Penny Mordaunt should be applauded for trying to bring a bit of common sense to this area. Anyone remember the tent debacle a few years ago when camp bastion was being wound down and thousands of refugees needed shelter, no one would pay to transport it. That is just ridiculous and should never be repeated.


14 of these!! Please try and live in the real world. The cost of a hugh fleet of these would sink the naval budget. Plus most who immediately go into storage as neither the RN or RFA could crew them.



I am living in the real world, as stated above these would replace virtually every RFA and RN large asset

3 Bays
1 Argus
1 Ocean
2 Albion’s
3 Forts
2 Waves

The above equals 12 and doesn’t take into account diligence or Hms Scott.

Add in the requirement for these type of aid ships and 14 is not as far fetched as you would seem to think, part of the reason for ordering these is to give us some much needed depth, so an increase in 2 vessels is hardly ground breaking is it.

Also I would rather build these ships and provide humanitarian support than just give countries millions of pounds even when they ask us not to.


And it is not like they are going to be built in a single year – as stated 1 every 18 months spread over 25 years at a cost of £400m per vessel against a mod procurement budget of £17bn pa, is hardly breaking the bank.

Can you please read the posting and understand before commenting. This is all in my original post.

We have a requirement for 12-14 large ships anyway, may as well standardise on an excellent platform and get some money from the foreign aid budget.


Foreign aid is largely a scam that does more to hinder poverty eradication and development rather than support it – a bit like the large welfare state that has developed in the western world. Much of this money ends up enriching the political elite in poor countries at the expense of the broader population and executives in non-government organisations. It’s no coincidence that there is a Mercedes Benz dealership in almost every country of the world, regardless of its level of economic development. Much better for capital to be in the hands of entrepreneurs rather than governments dishing it out in “foreign aid”.


Not in favour of proper hospital ships for the reasons outlined but i’d very much like to see 2 disaster relief ‘civilian support’ vessels in grey to replace RFA Argus.

Either convert merchant vessels or stick to a very simple commercial style design. Lots of internal space and modular kit with a sizable flight-deck and hangar so they can fill the aviation training role and crucially provide some of the capability lost when HMS Ocean was sold in a wartime scenario.

Put one in The West Indies during Hurricane season and keep the other East of Suez to respond to events.


I’d rather see the entire overseas aid budget spent on meeting all the costs of the RFA on the basis that the RFA is available for humanitarian missions when needed and supports out armed forces when on peace keeping missions.
Within the RFA then yes a dedicated hospital ship would be an idea.


Very interesting article although it’s from 2008


I have concerns over hospital ships and the Geneva convention. It stems from what happened to the Atlantic Conveyer in 1982 in how the Exocets were decoyed away from a RN type 21 Frigate then retargeted the AC.

How would a Hospital ship be protected from this?

No doubt this would be a War crime even if the Hospital ship wasnt the intended target. When the Geneva Convention was written Anti shipping missiles with targetting and tracking sensors were decades away. Just imagine the fury if the RN fired a Harpoon on a legitimate target for it to hit and sink a Hospital ship!


Same way the Geneva Conventions allowed the RN and the ARA to protect their hospital ships in 1982: The hospital ship has to stay away from the taskforce, it has to be in a declared area (the RN and ARA agreed to a “Red Cross Box” the two hospital ships could sail unhindered in), it has to be inspected by the other side to ensure it has abided by the limitations to armament and communications alluded to in the article, and it has to be suitably marked – which these days would included electronically.

Of these measures the two that are most impacted by modern weaponry such as guided missiles are firstly, the distance from other ships – which now needs to be increased to over the electronic horizon rather than the visual horizon so to speak (helicopters come into their own here for getting casualties to and from), and secondly the markings – whereas once upon a time illuminated red crosses on the hull sufficed, these days a TACAN broadcasting an uncoded hospital ship ID would probably be a good idea. The Swiss can usually be relied on to arrange a meeting between the belligerents to sort this kind of thing out while the taskforce is on it’s way to the area.

The Royal Navy and the Falklands War by David Brown has a small section on what they had to do to prepare and protect the hospital ships, it’s in the Kindle store.


Thanks for an detailed answer 🙂 btw I support the idea of having a Hospital Ship.


‘War crime…’ how quaint, after Iraq v.2.0, the equivalent of FDR invading Thailand for Pearl Harbor!


I see the real national shipbuilding strategy with ships like these along with the FSSS to get UK shipbuilding into other than frigates and Carriers (as if we build carriers on a regular basis). meaningful shipbuilding could help provide meaningful investment in yards and people.


Heres a thought, we have a Puma Fleet and a Bay fleet, we could sell these to DFID at the replace cost (ie cost of replacing) and that would be a big win/win all round.

UKAF get 24 new Merlins and 3 new Karel Doorman (possibly 6 if we are sensible with the SSS order) and DFID get some great assets to sail around the world doing good.

I also do want to see us providing British food and containerised homes, water purification and old land rovers (instead of new).

If the above means we drop below the OECD standard – so be it, much better to do the right thing than tick a box in my opinion.

Wil iWill

‘With climate change bringing more extreme weather, regular earthquakes and tsunamis…’

A simple internet search would show that this is blatantly not true and perpetuates the nonsense surrounding climate change. Bad show, savetheroyalnavy


If you want to get this built just call it Princess Diana and announce it just after the present Royal Baby Turns up, Sorted !

Ian Hunter OBE

I think this is a well-argued case for a facility which will enhance our visibility in distributing overseas aid (not just sacks of grain – important though they are). Just one point, the Govt has NOT given the NHS an extra £20 billion for next year. It required Trusts to save that money in their own accounts over the last few years and the Treasury has just given them permission to spend their own cash!

Dennis Clouser

Could use a few of these right now to fight Coronavirus.