The highly mechanised weapons handling system aboard HMS Queen Elizabeth is perhaps one of the most complex systems aboard, moving palletised munitions around the vessel to connect the magazines, hangar and flight deck.

Babcock Integrated Technology director Matt Hatson commented on the system:

“The HMWHS is the first maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric control, adapted for safe transport and stowage of munitions in a warship environment.

Munitions can be delivered, in bulk, to the point of use at rates that could not be achieved manually, whilst minimising the manpower requirement in what is traditionally a labour-intensive process, thus delivering reduced through-life cost, as well as a saving in onboard living accommodation requirements.”

The HMWHS moves palletised munitions from the magazines and weapon preparation areas, along track ways and via several lifts, forward and aft or port and starboard.

The movement of munitions is achieved by 56 ‘moles’, each able to lift and move a payload to locations around the ship using dedicated tracks and lifts. The moles can transfer payloads between each other.

The tracks can carry a pallet to magazines, the hangar, weapons preparation areas, and the flight deck. In a change from normal procedures the magazines are unmanned, the movement of pallets is controlled from a central location, and manpower is only required when munitions are being initially stored or prepared for use

This system speeds up delivery and reduces the size of the crew.

Babcock developed the design as part of the overall ship development and was awarded the contract covering final design, design integration with the shipyards, manufacturing, assembly, installation, test and commissioning in 2008.

Babcock was the design authority while Thales is the systems integrator.

Babcock describe the system:

“The QE Class HMWHS provides mechanical handling facilities for moving palletised munitions around the deep magazine and weapon preparation areas, and a series of weapons lifts to connect the magazines, hangar, weapon preparation area and flight deck.

This state-of-the-art system represents the first maritime application of shore-based commercial warehousing processes using automated systems with all-electric control, adapted for safe transport and stowage of munitions in a warship environment.

The system significantly reduces the manpower requirement for what is traditionally a labour-intensive, time-consuming and potentially hazardous process, helping to reduce through-life costs and maximise safety.”

When I toured the vessel in December I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the HMWHS, spaces within the magazine and the level of protection this system has from combat damage. The system was massive in scale, easily the size of a medium supermarket and served by a complex rail system.

Needless to say, I managed to trip over it!

9 COMMENTS

  1. It would be good to see the system in action. I wonder if some of these automation techniques can be used for a future HMS Ocean and Albion-Class replacement.

    • There is no Ocean replacement – being sold off to Brazil for pennies who will pay for her in installments. It’s like HMG can’t wait to get rid of her. How about we keep her in service until such time as the Brazilians save up their pocket money enough to buy her outright!

      Her role to be assumed by the QECs. Albion/Bulwark received/receiving refits, so they should be around for a while.

  2. Are the new US carriers doing anything similar or are they just relying on sheer manpower still?
    Surely having less people involved with something as dangerous as handling weapons on a ship can only be a good thing.

    • Moving weapons is safe. The old adage that I stood by as an Air Weapons maintainer was ” Explosives are safe until you forget they are not” Follow the drills and training and you are fine.

      The advantage of automation is keeping peoples fingers out of the way…
      However…
      When it goes wrong and that little 99 pence diode, photo electric cell or magnetic switch goes U/S and you don’t have a spare because the civvie manufacturer has a MTBF of 99 years ( when used in a warehouse not on a ship!) that’s when it will get to be fun.
      Cynical yes…
      Experienced that issue?
      Many Many times!

  3. Given the similar size of QE vs a US CVN (70k to 100k) the difference in crew size is amazing (700 to over 3000). I suspect that the operating costs of the two will be in a similar ratio. People may talk about availability of the nuc over fossil fuelled power but the all electric system of the QEs is very similar to that of modern cruise liners of similar size, and they achieve 90+% operational time. In terms of the weapons handling, if it is based on large warehouse technology, they operate with virtually 100% availability!

  4. Given the similar size of QE vs a US CVN (70k to 100k) the difference in crew size is amazing (700 to over 3000). I suspect that the operating costs of the two will be in a similar ratio. People may talk about availability of the nuc over fossil fuelled power but the all electric system of the QEs is very similar to that of modern cruise liners of similar size, and they achieve 90+% operational time. In terms of the weapons handling, if it is based on large warehouse technology, they operate with virtually 100% availability!

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