In a recent report, experts discuss the necessity for the Royal Navy to expand its fleet support ships to ensure sustained operational capabilities.

The report, ‘A More Lethal Royal Navy: Sharpening Britain’s Naval Power’ by William Freer and Dr. Emma Salisbury, outlines the current state of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and provides key recommendations to enhance its support capabilities.

The capability to replenish Royal Navy surface ships while underway is critical for maintaining operational readiness. The report states, “The capability to replenish Royal Navy surface ships while underway, with both liquid (fuel and fresh water) and solid stores (food, ammunition, spare parts, and so on), is a vital one for any deployment.”

RFA ships extend both the time warships can remain on station and the range at which they can operate from naval bases. Given the likely increase in the Royal Navy’s operational tempo, particularly with deployments in both the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions, a robust replenishment capability is essential.

However, the RFA’s replenishment fleet has significantly reduced over the last two decades. The RFA currently operates four Tide class fast fleet oilers and RFA Fort Victoria, a multi-role replenishment ship for both fuel and solid stores.

The report highlights, “The RFA currently operates four Tide class fast fleet oilers (plus two older Wave class oilers in reserve) for fuel and water replenishment, and RFA Fort Victoria (a multi-role replenishment ship for fuel and solid stores), all armed with Phalanx CIWS and machine guns.”

Fleet Solid Support Programme

The Fleet Solid Support Programme aims to procure three fleet solid support ships to replace RFA Fort Victoria. However, delays in this programme mean these vessels are unlikely to enter service until 2032.

The report expresses concern, particularly regarding carrier operations: “This is of particular concern for carrier operations – while the Tide class has some solid-store replenishment capability via helicopter transfer, RFA Fort Victoria is the only vessel capable of providing solid store replenishment to HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.”

Recommendations

Accelerate Fleet Solid Support Programme

The report strongly recommends accelerating the Fleet Solid Support Programme to prevent further delays. “Accelerate the Fleet Solid Support Programme, to avoid any further delays,” it advises.

Short-Term Solid-Store Replenishment Capability

To cover the gap until the new ships enter service, the report suggests assessing options for short-term solid-store replenishment capability. “Assess options for short-term solid-store replenishment capability to cover the gap,” it recommends. Options could include buying or leasing a commercial vessel, acquiring a similar vessel from another nation, or refitting a Tide class ship to enhance its solid store replenishment capability.

Amplify Overall Replenishment Capabilities

The report also advises amplifying the RFA’s overall replenishment capabilities over the medium term by procuring more fleet solid support ships beyond the three currently planned.

Additionally, it recommends either building more Tide class ships or accelerating the design of a new class of oiler.

Amplify the RFA’s overall replenishment capabilities over the medium term by procuring more fleet solid support ships beyond the three currently planned, and either building more Tide class ships or by accelerating the design of the new class of oiler.”

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Lisa has a degree in Media & Communication from Glasgow Caledonian University and works with industry news, sifting through press releases in addition to moderating website comments.
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Mark
Mark (@guest_828947)
18 days ago

Surely the first step for the RFA would be addressing the crewing issues that have several hulls laid up? I mean from the several articles on this report they seem mad for new capital investment to expand everything from frigates to SSN/SSBN number to the RFA but did I miss their suggestion on finding crews for this expansion?

Phil
Phil (@guest_828960)
18 days ago
Reply to  Mark

I’ve not seem any trade offs mentioned either, so it’s all just fantasy navel orders at this point unless we up defence spend to 3% and solve the recruitment problems.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_828972)
18 days ago
Reply to  Mark

These RFA ships all need to have some decent suite of defensive armament too.

SC
SC (@guest_829294)
16 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

Like what? The line between auxiliary and warship seems to sit about the 30MM mark, We did have ASCG on one of the Wave boats a few years ago and it was very good when it worked but it was very very maintenance intensive without a full time OM Branch.

The RFA has brought in the .50 cal HMG but are struggling to get enough people trained up to man them.

Aldo RFA
Aldo RFA (@guest_829061)
17 days ago
Reply to  Mark

Absolutely correct, although the decline in platforms is also an issue (22 ships when I first joined), but it the inability to crew the platforms that is the main problem, and an apparent unwillingness to compete with commercial competitors to increase retention and recruitment.

Phil
Phil (@guest_828958)
18 days ago

It’s fun adding up what’s in all those reports. This is the third I’ve seen and so far I think we’re on a two more Type 26s, two or four more Type 32s, an up arming programme for Types 26 and 31, a 5th SSBN, a couple of SSNs, and an expansion of the support fleet. Waiting for them to say we need a couple of helicopter carriers in the next one.

Bloke down the pub
Bloke down the pub (@guest_828967)
18 days ago

Get into service the ones we already have.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_828968)
18 days ago

Totally and get the pay dispute sorted first!

Mark F
Mark F (@guest_829030)
17 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

Definitely need to sort out pay and terms and conditions issues as a matter of urgency.

Steve
Steve (@guest_829426)
15 days ago

Or at least a cost benefit analysis. The ones we have need major refits and so if there is something cheaper as an interim solution it should be explored. Although not sure there would be many available.

Jim
Jim (@guest_828969)
18 days ago

Scrapping RFA Fort George has to be the stupidest decision of the Cameron government and that’s saying something given just how bad the coalition was.

How much did it really save, probably close to nothing. They could have at least laid her up in reserve.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli (@guest_829028)
17 days ago
Reply to  Jim

That and the Bay, mate. Agreed.

John Clark
John Clark (@guest_829086)
17 days ago

Total agreement, Cameron was horrendous, dangerous and savage cuts.

Expat
Expat (@guest_829221)
17 days ago
Reply to  John Clark

Yep, why didn’t we all vote for Corbyn and get these cuts reverse 5 years ago is beyond me 😋

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_829362)
16 days ago

Morning Daniele, that “Bay” that got away, now HMAS Choules, seems to be spending a lot of time tied up at Garden Is base here in Sydney. It still looks in very good knick. Not sure if this will make you feel any better but the RAN here is having issues with both it’s Navantia built oilers, HMAS Stalwart and Supply and may have to look elsewhere in the mean time. I think it’s shaft alignment issue on one of them. Not sure of the other. Isn’t Navantia part of the build team for the RN’s FSS? Hope they’re watching… Read more »

Last edited 16 days ago by Quentin D63
Gunbuster
Gunbuster (@guest_829150)
17 days ago
Reply to  Jim

The Fort boats needed a metric S**t tonne of additional work to bring them up to spec for fuel carriage. A Double hull needed to be installed. Without it they would not have gotten the certification required to go to sea. We could only do (afford?) one. The various Govts looked at the cost, risked it for a biscuit and with the subsequent delays to FSS and the morph into MRSS they have been caught out. Tanker conversions are easier than FSSS. We converted the Leaf Class (look them up on Wiki). They where limited in capability having only a… Read more »

Last edited 17 days ago by Gunbuster
Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_829364)
16 days ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Morning GB, what about the two Waves, any potential there for dual or multi use? Big assets sitting there doing nothing.

Gunbuster
Gunbuster (@guest_829373)
16 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

You can stick CONEX boxes on them and they do have a fwd hold but for Solid stores they will be limited.

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_829376)
16 days ago
Reply to  Gunbuster

Thanks. If there’s an emergency or interim needed there’s two vessels there to be utilised that together might give 50% of what’s needed? I might be wrong here but besides the US, countries like France and Italy even Aus don’t have specialised FSS ships do they, they’ll all on the one vessel type?

Last edited 16 days ago by Quentin D63
Ted
Ted (@guest_829001)
18 days ago

Well another strike looms on Tuesday for RFA. I know for a fact we are losing skilled experienced people at an alarming rate. Where they getting the people to crew these ships as the rate things are going there won’t be anyone left to operate the ships currently in service.

Challenger
Challenger (@guest_829008)
17 days ago

6 tankers and 3 solid stores ships (when built) is still an impressive replenishment fleet compared to most.

The focus should be on adequately manning what we have considering at the moment the 2 Waves, 2 of the Tides and Fort Vic are tied up doing nothing!

Bazza
Bazza (@guest_829019)
17 days ago
Reply to  Challenger

Reallistically the waves will only ever sail again if it is on the way to be scrapped. Still 4 tankers and 3 solid stores is a good auxiliary fleet.

The French are catching up though, never a good thing.

Tullzter
Tullzter (@guest_829259)
16 days ago
Reply to  Bazza

the BRF Jacques Chevalier is indeed a beauty

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_829371)
16 days ago
Reply to  Bazza

With the Waves, that sounds like a really indulgent waste of key assets. They’re not that old, why not spend a bit of sensible money and convert them to dual use for the interim if all the other bits our sound?

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison (@guest_829021)
17 days ago

As has been written by others and totally ignored by the writer Lisa West, where do we get the crews to man these vessels whether they are new ones or chartering commercial ships?

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_829067)
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter Harrison

Simply a matter of making the jobs attractive rather than under paying & overworking crews. Let “market forces” work in their favour rather than driving T&Cs down as low as can be achieved.

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison (@guest_829101)
17 days ago
Reply to  Frank62

The problem with that is that they are classed as civil servants and therefore not easy to just increase wages but I am get your point

Tullzter
Tullzter (@guest_829256)
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter Harrison

civil servants have already decent wages no?

Last edited 16 days ago by Tullzter
harryb
harryb (@guest_829384)
16 days ago
Reply to  Tullzter

Like any public servant, all Civil Servants, are paid below the commercial equivalent by some margin.

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison (@guest_829396)
16 days ago
Reply to  Tullzter

Depends which grade your on. If the RMT got a national strike for all MN seamen then the RFA would have to follow.

Angus
Angus (@guest_829025)
17 days ago

Sort the issue with the people FIRST (the MOST important factor in any service) and then you will have those ships all ready to deploy. The Waves are good ships to with many years of service ahead of them if crewed and operated. More support Helo’s needed which are force multipliers to all concerned. The RFA’s bring more than just food and fuel to the table. A standy by RFA tanker needed to support the Fleet Ready Escort 24/7 is a must too. Stong Fleet and Air and the UK will be safe as we are an ISLAND that has… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach (@guest_829040)
17 days ago

GEORGE. I HOPE THIS GETS TO YOU OR LISA> I have been trying to make a donation but I’ve tried clicking on the site and I keep ending up in a coffee bar which I don’t really want to do. Then I tried email but it was marked as failed .HELP.

DeeBee
DeeBee (@guest_829046)
17 days ago

The warnings/ Messages are loud & clear, The UK needs more of everything ( as I’ve repeatedly said on here) the usual suspects harping on about quality of number can belt up, all branches of our armed forces have been pruned to the bone, they all need mass & need it now, keep your half baked mealy mouthed excuses & stick em’ where the sun doesn’t shine, Numbers, Numbers, Numbers, so Sod off!!

Tom
Tom (@guest_829048)
17 days ago

Personally I fail to see how the ‘leasing’ of military equipment, such as new Fleet Support Ships, is better for the taxpayer, let alone the Royal Navy.

Who would crew these ships? Private contractor supplied people, paid more than Merchant Sea-people?

S Wright
S Wright (@guest_829056)
17 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Hi I work for the RFA and its pay and crewing shortage is the problem at the moment

Tom
Tom (@guest_830091)
13 days ago
Reply to  S Wright

Do you feel that a pay increase would fix the crew shortages?

Mickey
Mickey (@guest_829064)
17 days ago
Reply to  Tom

Canada leased the MV Asterix which is a mix of civilian (mostly) and naval personnel.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney (@guest_829235)
17 days ago
Reply to  Mickey

FYI the cost to purchase MV Asterix was only $20 million USD, but the cost to convert her and a 7 year lease was $700 million USD. Which is less than the cost of the RN Tide class tankers.
RCN has just extended the leased, god knows how much that cost !

Mickey
Mickey (@guest_829313)
16 days ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

There was not much choice for the RCN or the government. The new Protecteur class was 8 years out at that time and the RCN lost both of its oilers. 8 years later and the first of the Protecteur may come on line next year.

Quite frankly the RCN needs 4 support ships at minimum with the upcoming fleet plans that are at play over the next two decades.

Frank62
Frank62 (@guest_829062)
17 days ago

Apart from the two carriers the fleet is way below minimum peacetime levels. I think the reality is allowing evil to flourish & embolden globally by neglecting the necessary investment in conventional forces. We’re playing Russian roulette with the future of the west & nation, chosing to arrive at the next war with recklessly, criminally inadequate forces.

Micki
Micki (@guest_829099)
17 days ago
Reply to  Frank62

Wait to the defence review of future labour government, It Will be a horror film and yes, conservatives scrapped the armed forces but the future with these traitors both conservatives or labour looks terrible.

klonkie
klonkie (@guest_829133)
17 days ago
Reply to  Micki

Micki I fear your prediction will be spot on , I can’t see things improving.

Gunbuster
Gunbuster (@guest_829152)
17 days ago
Reply to  Frank62

The FF/DD fleets primary reason for existence is to now support CSG force generation. Thats it. If that can be done for each Carrier with 2 x T45 , 2 x T23 (with T26 in future) along with RFA support everything else is a nice to have. T45 and T23 availability is being managed. RFA availability is a massive issue especially with Solid Stores. Tides fitted with ChillCon’s will alleviate some of it but that’s for food only. They cannot carry and more importantly supply by jackstay ammo and heavy stores items. Vertrep for ammo, especially complex maritime weapons, in… Read more »

A F Thomas
A F Thomas (@guest_829079)
17 days ago

If you don’t have the crews, the ships will be a waste of money.

Ford tipex
Ford tipex (@guest_829109)
17 days ago

Isn’t Argus getting scrapped in Singapore at the moment?

Gertrude
Gertrude (@guest_829153)
17 days ago

I left the RFA almost a year ago by my own volition. The the entire motorman RFA pay package is worse than the base pay of a motorman with other British companies. And agency, pfft the RFA doesn’t even come close. I’m trying to justify rejoining as bodies are needed. But I can’t, my family and I lose out in every aspect compared to working commercially.

Ryan
Ryan (@guest_829165)
17 days ago

I suppose this is meant to be in conjunction with a larger RN, but unless pay and conditions get better too I can’t see much point spending huge sums we don’t have on ships we can’t crew.

Angus
Angus (@guest_829167)
17 days ago
Reply to  Ryan

Your 100% spot on and to pay the RFA a good wage would in the scheme of things be nothing at all yet allow the ships to be crewed and available boosting the effect of the Fleet as a whole. It really is a disgrace.

Bill
Bill (@guest_829166)
17 days ago

So far, Ms West has suggested a significant increase in the RN. Whilst I acknowledge the need, the other armed services also require expansion. The aircraft carriers and submarine fleet have taken a huge portion of the defence budget. There are probably more serviceable fast jets at RAF Lakenheath than in the whole of the RAF and I doubt the army could field a combat division. We could fight a war for less than a week before we run out of personnel, weapons, etc. We have limited defensive capability against ballistic missiles and drones (UAS). I could go on……

Peter S
Peter S (@guest_829197)
17 days ago
Reply to  Bill

I agree completely. The latest forecast shortfall in the 10 year equipment budget is almost entirely due to RN ambitions, including MRSS, T32, T83. It really is only tradition that places such emphasis on naval assets. We have spent a fortune on surface ships that aren’t very lethal or even, in the case of the carriers, very useful. We are now a small navy. The lesson from the experience of the inferior German navy in WW2 is that submarines can level up the contest. More SSNs would greatly enhance the RNs ability to counter naval threats. With so many vessels… Read more »

Bill
Bill (@guest_829253)
17 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

We are one….

harryb
harryb (@guest_829386)
16 days ago
Reply to  Peter S

Unfortunately, both the Carriers and SSBs are more politically motivated then operationally and the navy get burdened with them the most. Not to say their not useful or important. But i can imagine the navy would rather of not had to deal with them if they had the choice.

Dave
Dave (@guest_829171)
17 days ago

We need them and if we make them in Britain from steel smelted in Britain using iron ore and coal mines in Britain we will have thousands of jobs. But some mindless civil servant will ignore that and save us a fiver buying from korea

Peter S
Peter S (@guest_829192)
17 days ago
Reply to  Dave

We import all iron ore and almost all coking coal. The switch to electric arc furnaces will likely increase overall steel output using recycled scrap, much of which is currently exported, and electricity from the mix of sources that power the current grid.

Enobob
Enobob (@guest_829222)
17 days ago
Reply to  Dave

There are no iron ore or coal mines left in the UK. we have imported iron ore for decades. Electric Steel is adequate for the job and we do seem to be making some headway in that direction.

Dave
Dave (@guest_829370)
16 days ago
Reply to  Enobob

There are deposits of iron ore and coal, time we went mining again

Ian
Ian (@guest_829188)
17 days ago

I thought Fort Victoria was de facto out of service due to her material condition and a shortage of RFA crew?

Iain
Iain (@guest_829193)
17 days ago

I get the feeling that people should stop blaming Lisa for the report not mentioning manning. She didn’t write it and this isn’t an Op Ed, merely a report on the contents of the report. I think we all know that the main problem with the RFA is that it is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate for very clearly known reasons. The problem is the treasury love that headcount is going down and until that position changes nothing is going to improve. Personally I think that anyone applying for a job in the treasury should serve six years in… Read more »

Ian
Ian (@guest_829266)
16 days ago
Reply to  Iain

Or for that matter any enterprise that has to actually try to achieve useful results while being battered by funding cuts.

Cripes
Cripes (@guest_829231)
17 days ago

More submarines. More escorts. More auxiliaries. No doubt more F-35s and Merlins and UAVs and whatever else is next in the queue. Basic fact 1: There is currently no money for any of this naval wish-list. Even if we.get a slow increase to 2.5% of GDP, there is still no money: the black hole in the defence equipment budget is somewhere between £7bn and £14bn. Close to three-quarters of that hole is apparently down to the RN trying to order vessels and kit that it has no budget for. Basic fact 2: The military priorities have to be (1) RAF,… Read more »

Expat
Expat (@guest_829236)
17 days ago

So more RFA, more subs, more frigates, more destroyers and arenal ships. All needed according to UKDJ articles over the pass few days. Were just weeks from a new government and a few month from a defence review based on a new strategy. My moneys on none of the above. But that was given even with the Tories.

Trev
Trev (@guest_829262)
16 days ago

Click bait nonsense ukdj

David Owen
David Owen (@guest_829267)
16 days ago

Recruitment drive is what is needed, advertise the jobs but the useless soon to be gone spineless tories had never thought of that ,30 years ago the rfa fleet was big ,get it back to where it should be ,

Quentin D63
Quentin D63 (@guest_829365)
16 days ago

How’s the RN going to keep going to the far reaches of the globe, have a presence, project power, let alone support a CSG or even if it’s allies if the RFA is short funded and unable to provide vessel availability? You’ll need very full fuel tanks, travel at slower speeds and lots of friendly ports for refuelling. Tongue in cheek. Maybe it’s time for an NATO/Aukus+ tanker fleet pool like with the air tankers?

Last edited 16 days ago by Quentin D63
Cripes
Cripes (@guest_829383)
16 days ago
Reply to  Quentin D63

I’m coming round to the same kind of conclusion Quentin. We are a small country, we do not have anything like the money, the defence budget, the ships, the aircraft or the service numbers to do much east of Suez. What we are doing just now is pretty token, with little OPVs flying the flag and one day perhaps 3 lone T31s at sea, interspersed with our one carrier group visiting every second year. It is important that we contribute to defence and deterrence in the Pacific, to support our allies there, as China ramps up its military forces and… Read more »

Mark
Mark (@guest_829410)
16 days ago

Getting people to join the Navy and crew them is the bigger problem, so we were told not long ago ?