HMS Scott will now serve in the Royal Navy for a decade longer than originally planned.
Originally scheduled to be withdrawn in 2022 as she reached the end of her intended 25-year lifespan, Scott had been listed for sale by the MoD Defence Equipment Sales Authority. Last year she was given a 12-month extension in service while the RN considered the replacement options and it has now been decided to run the ship for another 10 years.
In order to sustain the vessel and maintain her Lloyds certification, it is likely Scott, launched in 1996, will have to undergo a major life extension (LIFEX) refit and work package that could include fitting new engines.
Understanding the oceans, seabed profile and water column is vital to submarine operations and Scott directly contributes to operating the UK nuclear deterrent as well as more general hydrography and science missions. The powerful Sonar Array Sounding System (SASS) fitted to the hull allows Scott to survey around 25,000 square miles of ocean every month. During her lifetime it is estimated she has charted 3.7% of the entire area of the world’s oceans.
During the initial work on procuring Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance (MROS) ships that began in 2021, the small team looked at several merchant ships that might be quickly purchased and converted for the Seabed Warfare (SBW) and deep water Military Data Gathering (MDG) roles. There are commercial vessels that can accommodate sophisticated deep water echo-sounders but none were found that were suitable in the limited time available. HMS Scott was purpose-built and is difficult to match the capability of her integrated sonars and data processing systems. A second round of searching the commercial shipping market focused only on finding a suitable SBW vessel resulted in the purchase of MV Topaz Tangaroa, now renamed RFA Proteus (MROS-1).
The RN’s smaller survey vessels, HMS Echo and Enterprise were both decommissioned in the last year in order to fund new autonomous methods of MDG that are not yet fully mature. Retaining Scott is a sensible move to maintain a conventional platform and have continuity of ocean survey until the future becomes more clear.
The ultimate plan is that Scott will be replaced by MROS-2 and her extension in service allows time to define the requirement more precisely. Depending on funding and the specification, this could be a bespoke design and new-build platform (already a placeholder in the National Shipbuilding Strategy) or a more major conversion of an existing ship. There is a possibility that ocean survey could, eventually be conducted by off-board systems and MROS-2 could be more of a mothership without hull-mounted arrays.