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!