The second of a fleet of five new offshore patrol vessels, HMS Medway, has been revealed by BAE Systems and is ready to be launched in Glasgow.

The vessel will be moved onto the barge and then lowered into the River Clyde.

On the 6th of November 2013 it was announced that the Royal Navy had signed an Agreement in Principle to build three new OPVs based on the River class design at a fixed price of £348m including spares and support, an additional two vessels were outlined in the Strategic Defence & Security Review in 2015.

DiagramDuring a Defence Select Committee in July 2016, the First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Philip Andrew Jones indicated that the option for a fleet of ‘up to six’ offshore patrol vessels had been reduced to five, with Clyde being replaced by one of the new Batch 2 ships.

The First Sea Lord has elaborated on the potential uses for the Batch 2 ships overseas, including the possibility of forward basing an extra ship at the Falklands Islands, or forward basing it elsewhere. Admiral Sir Philip Jones said:

“Well, you are absolutely right that they have proved enormously useful, flexible and reliable ships. There are four vessels that we have in service at the moment. Three are Tyne, Mersey and Severn, which operate largely in UK waters on fishery protection and offshore tapestry protection, and of course they are increasingly working with the Border Force and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency in support of protection of UK waters. Then we have a fourth one, which is permanently based in the South Atlantic.

We have had those ships in service for quite some time now. We are looking at replacing them with slightly larger and more capable ships in due course anyway, so that was already in the course of production to bring three of those in. The additional two will enable us to take a longer term view of how we replace HMS Clyde, which is a slightly larger helicopter-capable version of the OPV. We are looking at a number of ways in which we might use the fifth one.

So, the fourth one is clearly a Clyde replacement.

The fifth one can either be added into the mix for the three that operate in UK waters or it could be forward-deployed somewhere else in the world, or it could become a second vessel operating in the South Atlantic. All those options are available.”

The 90 metre OPV is based on a BAE Systems design which is already in service with the Brazilian Navy and Royal Thai Navy. BAE Systems have modified the design, ensuring it meets the requirements of the Royal Navy in support of UK interests both at home and abroad.

The programme has however been the focus widespread concern at the significantly increased cost of the Royal Navy variant.

The vessels will include a modified flight deck capable of operating Merlin helicopters, larger stores and more accommodation for embarked troops. They will also be the first ships to be built with a BAE Systems designed, new operating system called ‘Shared Infrastructure’, which will be rolled out across the Royal Navy surface fleet over the next ten years.

51 COMMENTS

  1. i hope these were designed to be able to put a ciws and some anti ship missiles on board if needed so they could be some use in a conflict or at least not a liability

    • I think that’s a terrible idea.
      These are OPV’s for fisheries protection, a little light constabulary work or flag waving in the Caribbean.
      Sticking a CIWS on them and putting them into the middle of a conflict is very badly thought out.

      • if they are going to station one out at the Falkland islands – thats a long way from the rest of the fleet – i’d want a ciws at least – dont know if Argentina has any exocets left or the ability to launch them – but its possible that ship could come under fire

        as for the advisability of them being in combat well the huge cost increase of the uk variant of the class was supposedly to make them up to combat spec – they might be small but they have strong hulls

        • Lets be honest here, Argentina can’t do shit to us, they just got rid of the only aircraft that could effectively reach us (F4’s) and one of their two destroyers was fucked up recently while trying to leave port. Aside from the fact that the weapons on these are long past their repair date and they are out of spares we don’t have to worry about the Argentinians comming close to the Falkland Islands

          • Well, let’s hope your assessment is right, however, there is a shadow of how Thatcher’s government thought prior to the invasion, in what you say. Is it not the first rule of defence never to underestimate your potential enemies capabilities?

  2. Aren’t these for coastal patrol and enforcement rather than heavy action areas? I highly doubt dealing with drug dealers requires weaponry of that type.

  3. If they can embark troops – then they can also embark MANPADS & ATGM teams? IIRC RM Codos put serious holes in Argentinian Frigate with Charlie G 84mm – a Javelin ATGM would seriously mess up a any hostile light combatant?

  4. Are these really the best option for UK fisheries and other UK coastal work? How much better is the sea keeping on these vs the 42m Border Agency cutters?

    There’s so much discussion about lesser ships freeing up higher-end assets e.g. can T31 free up T26 to concentrate on the highest-risk areas, can River free up frigates, might some SSKs free up SSNS etc. I’m left with a nagging thought that maybe if these Rivers end up deploying in U.K. waters for things like fisheries patrol it might be a case of something that should be doing foreign-waters stuff like Falklands, anti-piracy etc ending up being tied up doing work that a less high-end asset (e.g. More 42m cutters) could do for less cost and fewer crew.

    I don’t think it would take too much to turn these Rivers into quite impressive assets for relatively low risk but not totally safe environments, e.g. anti-piracy and anti-smuggling. Embark a containerised drone with a decent surveillance package (one standard 20′ ISO container can fit port & starboard of the crane aft of the RIBs without encroaching on the flight deck and for a small drone would provide enough sheltered space to undertake onboard maintenance) and a River could police a lot of space. Upgrade the 30mm mount to a Sigma one to add LMM (I believe the River batch 2s have a munitions storage area for possible helicopter use) and the engagement range goes up to 8km. Something like a Schiebel S-100 camcopter drone is very close to having enough payload capacity to carry both a very capable surveillance package such as Thales I-Master and a couple of LMM (which it has already test fired) which would give a capability to engage a small target such as skiff or RIB at over-the-horizon ranges.

    Yes, we seem to have paid way more than we should have for these Rivers because of BAE TOBA and not getting our act together in time to get T26 underway but, even without a hangar for a manned helicopter, I think these have the potential to be genuinely very useful assets with some fairly modest extra investment.

    • Totally agree and had the same thoughts about S-100/LMM and Sigma. Fitting 20mm guns to decks behind the bridge (as per Brazil’s Amazonas) would offer improved AA protection and further defence against fast craft.

  5. Is it me or does the gun look tiny on the diagram, almost like there is room for a real naval gun to be fitted, should the need arise in the future?

    Ok with no self defence options, it would need to be under the umbrella of another vessel, but with a proper gun fitted, it could provide some shore bombardment options to support an landing force.

  6. What I don’t get about these vessels is they spent a lot of money upgrading the hull above the off the shelf, to be able to take a hit, which is sensible for a war fighter and then they don’t arm them to be able to do anything in a war situation.

    Considering the armament they are designed to go after very low intensity situations like fishery and basic anti piracy/smuggling, but no more, and for that they could have built a cheap coastal cutter and built 3 or 4 of them for the price of one river.

    They built these for job protection and I understand that it was needs do bribe the Scots (some of them anyway) but equally they could have built cheaper vessels but multiple of them and had the same effect but actually improved our capability. Very odd decision making behind these. the only thing I can think of is that the cutter option wouldn’t look enough like a naval vessel to fall under the banner of increasing the number of hulls with the 179b investment or wharecer it is.

    • Re could have built more cheaper vessels instead, that’s essentially the point I made further up but coming at it from a different angle.

      Maybe one issue that the new Rivers weren’t really built only because of a need to “bribe the Scots” but more to honour a contractual agreement with BAE intended to protect UK shipbuilding capacity and expertise.

      ToBA (Terms of Business Agreement) was (is) with BAE so perhaps we wouldn’t have been able to buy any off the shelf (and hence very cost-effective) stuff such as the existing Border Force cutters but would have needed to use a BAE design which, if one didn’t already exist, would have needed to be done from scratch. Maybe “cheap coastal cutter” just wasn’t an option due to the BAE tie-in and the Rivers were the smallest ships that wouldn’t eat up too much design cost in delivering a class that essentially wasn’t planned for (I think BAE should have been building the first T26 if that hadn’t been delayed so much)

  7. The problem with any great idea like CIWS or ASM or upgunning the 30mm to a 40mm CTA Sea Guardian is that it might be seen as a warship on the cheap and that could mean less expensive big destroyers or frigates for the RN. It would certainly be possible for someone to see an upgunned River as the T31 and then not order those. Its the same reason as to why the RAF don’t use more cheap drones and LMM, because using them instead of Paveway/Brimstone and Typhoons and AAR A330s could result in less of the big expensive shiny pointy fast toys and therefore less money into their service.

    The sooner we move to a single UKAF instead of 3 services to eliminate this rivalry the better. Remove lots of top jobs, revert the effects rank inflation, remove a few layers and increase the pay of those lower down. Plus of course stripping out the 8000 defence procurement staff and start using our cash to buy useful off the shelf stuff instead of FRES and such like.

      • I agree with the single force structure comment.

        The Israelis and USMC are single force and arguably doing much better with their budgets than we are. The model is there to be seen and it works.

        I also agree that this should stop the infighting that is destroying our military.

        • The number one problem with our armed forces is the huge number of officers who contribute nothing to our defence but the expense of phones, computers, air-con offices to say nothing of wages, expenses and pensions. The problem gets worse the higher up you go. It’s at it’s worst in the RAF and to a lesser degree the Army. I would be happier if we could reduce the officer to men ratio to those of the USMC or IDF. I would go so far as to offer 2.5% of GDP to defence if they would agree to it but sadly in the confident expectation that they would turn it down.

          • David

            Couldn’t agree more and would say 2.5% is what is needed for a sustainable force structure and industry for the UK.

            We have become too used to ordering equipment we are paying too much money for resulting in fewer assets than we need.

      • The force is too small and underfunded to have 3 services – its time to integrate into 2 joint commands.

        Standing forces and Expeditionary Forces – both under a single high level command but with discrete roles.

        We can save so much money that can go to other things its a bit of a no brainer for me.

    • AKAF….yes,yes,yes,yes,yes etc. It might also give senior officers more clout when fighting (trying to stand up to) government cuts, delays and plain and simple bad ideas. I wonder how much a divide-and-conquer strategy is used by politicians to weaken arguments from the military by deliberately trying to create divisions between the army, airforce and navy. If they could all talk with one voice it would be more powerful.

      • D’oh – “AKAF” = “UKAF”.

        I do so wish that we could edit our comments, at least for a few minutes after posting.

      • Hi TH

        I share most of Julian’s and others views and have written to the secretary for Defence and received a reply thanking me for raising many of the concerns shared on this forum.

        • Sorry guys but in theory yes but in Britain no. A few things to consider:
          1. The number of Whitehall managed schemes that aim to save money usually achieve nothing like the savings identified.
          2. Any savings will be taken by the Treasury.
          3. The reorganisation costs will be enormous. New offices, job titles, branding and of course the very people you all want to reduce will survive. They will obviously be in charge!
          The rationalisation of senior ranks, which we all seem to agree is long overdue and other efficiencies highlighted on here do not require such an upheaval just some political will. Finally how about we just stop wasting so much money on cancelled projects or refitting ships, planes, vehicles and buildings that are then scrapped or sold off shortly afterwards.

  8. In a major balls-out war, these OPVs could be positioned as floating refueling pads for Merlins and Wildcats. I can see how they could operate in conjunction with a task force for that purpose (not directly as they don’t have the speed). CIWS of some kind would doubtless come in handy in that circumstance. The vast majority of time, these vessels are for patrolling low intensity areas – fisheries protection, anti-narcotics, etc. The one thing they need but don’t have is a hangar. That one additional feature would greatly increase their versatility.

  9. Does anyone know what happened to HMS Forth? I cannot find any news about her anywhere. She was accepted into the RN some months back but since then seems to have disappeared off the radar-no photos no nothing!

  10. I think the uk is making a mistake by withdrawing the River class batch 1 vessels. The UK has one of the largest coastlines and EEZ in Europe and must maintain an effective patrol of this vast area. Only having the 5 River batch 2 vessels is inadequate.
    20 years ago the RN maintained a fleet of 20+ offshore patrol vessels, so lets move back up in terms of hull numbers especially with Brexit around the corner.
    5 River batch 2, retain hms Clyde in the Falklands and the River batch 1 vessels either retained in RN service or go to border force to provide a new armed maritime capability akin to US coastguard.
    The river batch 1s need a little bit of work fitting out with UAVs / drones to better enable larger areas of the maritime area to be kept under surveillance.

    • I come back to my concern of earlier though. Would River Batch 1 be overkill and would more 42m cutters be the better solution? According to Wikipedia we paid £4.3m per unit for the cutters about 10-15 years ago so they should still be well under £10m each and with 12 crew each rather than 30 for the River Batch 1s lower staff costs, plus lower running costs due to smaller vessels and lower initial maintenance costs due to being brand new. It would seem to me that selling off the River 1s and using the money to purchase more cutters might get better presence and coverage.

      Isn’t Clyde still leased rather than owned outright by the RN? We only bought the other three batch 1s 5 years ago for £13m each and Clyde is bigger so, on that basis and with inflation we’re probably looking at more like £20m to buy her in 2018 or 2019. Surely better to spend that money on at least 2 if not 3 extra 42m cutters and deploy one of the River 2s to the Falklands. It puts a better asset out there and provides more hulls for UK waters.

    • Agreed they are not heavy on manpower, give command experience to a large number of officers, increase RN presence and ease the burden on our moe complex ships. Of course getting rid of the batch 1s fits in with our ability to waste £billions scrapping or selling off perfectly good equipment well before the end of its useful or design life. The MoD budget is tight but the waste is a disgrace and some comments on here regarding scrapping our current LPDs for new ships for example would only make things worse.

  11. I have always wondered why we haven’t moved into a joint force idea, having 3 services has never really made much sense.

    In a combat situation, they don’t operate as 3 seperate services fighting different battles, they operate together to support each other.

    I suspect the biggest problem with combining them is policitical, firstly it would mean a loss of a lot of top bass jobs, so they would never vote for it and no doubt would result in a reduction in civil service jobs, which the unions would strike over. Finally it would probably result in some base closures which would mean certain politicians wouldn’t be happy and would vote against it.

    It seems to me that our 3 main problems is

    1. Politicians love to announce big expensive new equipment and less interested in less glamours stuff that is far more needed

    2. There doesn’t appear to be a clear view on what our role in the world stage is, mainly because we do not know what the enemy will look like as we have polar opposite options of high end like Russia and counter insurgency like ISIS, and we don’t have the budget to fully gear for both so currently we are half gearing for each.

    3. as touched on in another post, our armed forces are used to being told they will get x and end up with significantly less than x, because subsequent defense reviews decide that x is no affordable. If the policticans stated ok we are going for x and the firm order was then placed for it so delivery was guaranteed, the MOD could start planning properly. It must be a nightmare trying to plan around a budget but knowing that what ever you order the numbers will be cut.

    The real question though is whether combining the forces would result in any improvement, since you would still have separation at a lower level, since you still need sailors/soldiers/pilots and supporting staff segregated by skills. So effectively only the top layer would be combined and so conflicting ideas would still be coming up the ranks (for example the top guy was a career sailor and so has an unconscience biased to the navy because it is what he understands best)

    • Steve, agreed and it’s going to get worse as with Cyber we will/ do require a fourth force, a single integrated command and force structure is a necessity now.

      And yes I have written to the minister for defence just in case anyone asks.

  12. I don’t think amalgamation of the services is the way to go.
    This would cause yet more damage to morale, the military covenant is already somewhat bruised.

    What’s needed now is stability (not another round of changes) and smart thinking regards procurement and retention of key personnel.

    • I can’t see combining them would have any hit on morale, since the front line units probably wouldn’t see any impact and these are the people with the morale issues.

      The problem with combining them, is we first need an image of what the combined army is setup to combat, and i suspect trying to achieve a common view would cost a huge amount of money and result in a complete mess once the politicians start interfering.

      The question is whether the short/medium term pain is worth taking, for the longer term improvement and hopefully a more joint up idea of what procurement needs there are .

  13. You bath chair admirals make me laugh, you really do. Appalling language by Will adds a nice ‘macho’ image. The real question is, despite the machinations and hand wringing, are any of you actively campaigning or what you desire or do you simply waste hours writing on a website which has no influence at all?

        • You bath chair admirals make me laugh, you really do. Appalling language by Will adds a nice ‘macho’ image. The real question is, despite the machinations and hand wringing, are any of you actively campaigning or what you desire or do you simply waste hours writing on a website which has no influence at all?

          • Just curious TH, why are you so negative? Why not join in and contribute positively to the discussion.

  14. TH

    I would like to draw your attention to the Term T31.. This was created on the Think Defence site and adopted by all. So actually writing on sites like this does actually influence.

  15. I like these.

    There are plenty of locations / missions where a ‘near warship’ presence is preferable to a Frigate. They shouldn’t be in a war zone and they be used as an excuse to cut the escort program.

    Falklands, Mediterranean, Anti drug / piracy, humanitarian, UK waters. I believe there is an upgrade path for self defence if the world got hotter.

    Would be quite happy to have larger OPV / T-26 fleets and forget the T-31s.

    • I’m far less negative about them than I was initially. Even without hangar facilities they could still do a surprising amount when called for if only the MoD would invest in some containerised extra capability such as drones. The two areas behind the RIBS are ideal for housing extra capability when needed and internally they apparently have a useful amount of extra C&C and berth space (26 extra berths) above that required for basic crewing of the vessel. I can see a definite argument for the T31 budget being diverted towards more T26 & River B2 (and some drone projects).

      • Agreed. There appears to be a lot that could actually be fitted with rather than for as a force multiplier and not just the B2s

    • I like Julian am warming to them – but cannot really get away from the lack of a mission/helo bay. For the money we paid for them this is a necessity and the govt really should take a good long hard look at their relationship with BAE and how it is managed. A bit more steel for these would hardly have broken the bank and I suspect the price would have been the same.

      A 76m Otto on these and we are in business I think – again something that should have been done in the first place, but not terminal.

      I think for surveying, mine laying (in times of need), fisheries and a whole host of other roles these and the B1’s are perfect. As others have said however they are not escorts and should not be classed as such. Constabulary/Light Patrol and non combat ops only.

  16. Britain needs more such vessels, far more. Better these than large white elephants such as aircraft carriers etc. These vessels are of greater tonnage than some WW2 destroyers. Reclassify them as corvettes and build more of them. That’s my message to my MP sent today!

    • the problem is in ww2 era the pirates / smugglers weren’t using fiberglass very light boats with very powerful engines. Realistically any policing role now needs a helicopter to intercept and without a hanger this isn’t going got be always available, not to mention the lack of air frames. they should have built less vessels but a little bigger so they had room for a wildcat sized fixed or flexible hanger. Armed drones are a solution but there are none available today or likely to be any time soon.

    • TH

      I too see a place for corvettes in our Navy and the the CSword90 is a prime example of what can be achieved in this class.

      I am not particularly hung up on the bigger, bigger better argument and am also very interested in taxpayer VFM, but we do need a balanced fleet and given what the Govt wishes to achieve I guess an aircraft carrier or two are required (I will leave this decision to those who know better).

      The key here is even if you are happy with the size the VFM on this particular order is shockingly poor and for a little bit more money you can get a whole new level of capability from a relatively small asset.

      The other thing I would say is that with a balanced fleet (say we had 25 of these) we need to exercise proper lifecycle management whereby a new asset is fully kitted out and assigned more rigorous work whilst the older vessels are moved into less intensive work and – perhaps with reduced crews. To do this the asset itself needs to be able to operate at different tempo’s and I think the new designs recognise this.

    • There is a reason why the USA has 19 carriers. Because they can project global influence and power in a way that no other military asset can match. They provide flexibility in war zones and allow air strikes to be carried out around the world; important even for us, since our main RAF bases are in the UK and on Cyprus. Most of all, the QEC signifies our return to being a world power, capable of exerting our own influence rather than just relying on the Americans. Yes, fast, light ships are also a valuable asset, but that’s part of the reason why we’re getting the Type 31 light frigates.

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