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RFA Mounts Bay is flying the flag across the Caribbean as she heads into Montserrat to continue a series of training exercises and goodwill visits as part of the standing Atlantic Patrol Task (North) (APT (N)).

RFA Mounts Bay took up her rotation in mid-July following a period of maintenance at Falmouth and relieved her fellow auxiliary, the Wave-class tanker, RFA Wave Knight. Since then she has visited a number of nations and territories within the region including Anguilla, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. APT (N) is primarily focused on providing regional support in the areas of Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) and counter-narcotics and remains a year round commitment for the Naval Service.

She will arrive in Montserrat on Tuesday morning for a three day visit. The visit had been scheduled as a four day event but was delayed and reduced by twenty four hours due to undisclosed “mechanical difficulties” with the ship.

Highlights of the visit will include a major training exercise at Little Bay testing the ability the ship to deploy resources ashore using landing craft and her embarked Lynx Wildcat helicopter, and then the ability of the island’s agencies to coordinate and deploy them effectively on land. Work will also be done to review the islands disaster management and contingency planning procedures using the expertise of the ship’s crew.

Mounts Bay will also be delivering a new Rigid Inflatable Boat to the island for use in search and rescue and policing operations. The vessel is formerly of the RNLI and is being loaned to the island by the British Government as a stopgap pending the arrival of a new purpose built police boat later in the year.

In addition the ship will conduct a number of the staples of a naval visit including a formal reception for the Governor, Premier and other distinguished guests and of course the highly competitive football match between representative teams from the ship and island.

The visit will be overseen by Lt. Col. Anton Gash who has recently arrived in the Caribbean as the new British Military Attache, he described the RFA Mounts Bay and her embarked assets as a “remarkable asset” for the region, views echoed by Governor Carriere who highlighted the visit as “another strong display of the UK’s commitment to supporting the region’s disaster management, safety and security interests”.  

As a British Overseas Territory Montserrat’s defence remains the responsibility of the British Government. The island does however maintain the small, volunteer, Royal Montserrat Defence Force for ceremonial events and to assist in regional security and disaster relief.

15 COMMENTS

  1. RFA

    About time these vessels were co-opted into the the RN, like the USN model.

    These vessels are becoming more important and are carrying out many of the RN constabulary duties.

    These are Navy vessels in all but name and partial crew.

    Time for a whole section of management to be removed to save money and bring them all under the auspices of the RN.

    Thoughts???

  2. Rob

    I agree with you 100%.

    The RFA needs around 20 vessels that are fully co-opted into the RN and provide both supply, humanitarian and amphibious capabilities for the RN.

    8 Tides and 8 Karel Doorman like Solid Stores (based on Tide/Aeigir) would go a long, long way to giving the RN flex and capability.

    Primary role would be supply – but the ability of these ships to act as hospitals, Helicopter carriers or even perhaps LPD’s with a steel beach off the back for hovercraft (ship to shore connectors) is surely the way to go.

    The Karel Doorma type vessel has hanger space for 6 Merlins or 2 Chinooks and take hold many more if required as well as a few thousand lane metres. They can act as a mother ship for small vessels (CB90’s, Atlas Arcims MCM’s or even Mk6 safe boats at a push). Truly capable and whilst a compromise in terms of it being a bit of a Swiss army knife – for me the way forward for the RN for any non combat vessel (by combat I mean frigate/Destroyer etc).

    Highly cost efficient the 4 Tides will cost £200m each so 16/20 of these are really good value and gives us the desperately needed hulls that are certainly amongst the most used assets in the RN today.

    • I agree the Karel Doorman would be an excellent and much needed addition, I think you have said before they could in theory replace the mine-hunters so that would be great, but I still think we need ships like Albion, Bulwark and Ocean which are built specifically for amphibious ops, for instance the Karel Doorman has 2 landing craft but the Albion-class has 8, 4 of which can carry main battle tanks.

      It’s all about capability, if the Karel Doorman can land a full assault squadron of Royal Marines and their vehicles in our landing crafts then fine but i’m not sure they could.

  3. Hi Rob, yeah I agree that seems logical.

    About this deployment, while sending a ship like this to assist during hurricane season every year is excellent and they are suited for disaster relief, but at the end of the day they are landing ship docks, disaster relief is a secondary capability behind amphibious operations, they don’t have a third capability of counter-narcotics or any sort of paroling, I doubt the crew are trained in tracking small fast boats and what looks regular/irregular etc, she has no armaments and no top end radar. She also doesn’t have a hangar.

    “APT (N) is primarily focused on providing regional support in the areas of Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief (HADR) and counter-narcotics and remains a year round commitment for the Naval Service.”

    Well according the official RN website counter-narcotics, deterring drug traffickers and patrolling comes before disaster relief.

    A small frigate like the Type 31 (when it comes) should be doing this sort of task. That’s why we need more than 5, we have patrols we should be taking part in all over the world like this, we need 20 or so small general purpose frigate for this type of work.

    • UK Defence Journal isn’t always great with its picture selection so if you’re saying no hangar or armaments based on the picture then that might not be the case. Although the Bay design didn’t include any armaments of note (a few rail-mounted GPMG don’t count) or hangar as permanent fixtures the Bays do sometimes deploy with both. There is at least one photo of a semi-rigid (I think) hangar that can be fitted on the Bays and they have deployed with that fitted on a number of occasions. They are also (according to Wikipedia) fitted for 2 x DS30 and 2 x Phalanx. I’ve definitely seen pictures of Bays deploying with Phalanx so know that is true but not so sure about DS30.

      Here’s a pic with hangar fitted: http://www.seaforces.org/marint/Royal-Navy/Amphibious-Ship/Bay-class.htm

      Here’s a pick showing forward Phalanx fitted: http://www.alamy.com/stock-photo-the-ship-rfa-lyme-bay-departs-from-portsmouth-for-the-solent-70135768.html

      Not ideal I grant you but hangar and some weapons heavier than GPMG can be carried.

      Regarding counter-narcotics & drug trafficking I still think that River B2 could be given the capability to do that very well if the MoD would invest in drone technology, e.g. the Schiebel Camcopter S-100 or ideally a version 2.0 of that concept to give another 25kg or so of payload. The S-100 could easily fit in a standard 20′ ISO container with enough space around it to service it so the container essentially becomes it’s hangar and the Rivers can fit a single ISO container either side of the crane without encroaching on the flight deck. The S-100 has a 6 hour endurance and 180km range with a 34kg payload and there are some great ~30kg sensor packages e.g. the Thales i-Master. The S-100 has even test fired a Martlet (LMM) so if a v2.0 is in development somewhere with a slightly bigger payload that could even allow a sensor package plus laser targeting and a couple of LMM to be carried which would be a really good tool in policing roles and make the B2s genuinely useful (although we still paid too much for them) plus make use of the aviation fuel storage and munitions storage that the B2s have.

      • Thanks Julian, I was unaware of that so thanks. The idea of drones from the River class is an interesting one, a good idea but unlikely at this stage I think. This general purpose frigate should be well equipped for standard patrols independently or part of a Nato/EU patrol.

  4. If RFA/RN assets are to be used for disaster relief-style taskings, then the Foreign Aid budget should be used to pay for it; it is plenty bloated as it is and gets fatter every year whereas defence is skin and bone!

    • Yup. Do a really good design for the upcoming MARS SSS and take money from the foreign aid budget to fund part of the design costs and to double the hull numbers from the 3 currently planned for fleet replenishment to 6. That would only be a blip in the aid budget. Then look at procuring more extra hulls to replace Argus and ultimately the 3 Bays. RAN already has one of our original Bays so maybe we could sell them the other 3 to accelerate consolidation into a single fleet of SSS similar to Karel Doorman class but better.

      • Julian

        The Norwegian Aegir is smaller than ours and has a large hospital in it. Also being built in Korea these are great value assets.

        The SS ship will be Aeigr based and we should really look at replacing all our current Amphibious, hospital and supply vessels with a new fleet that is Aegir based.

        I clearly like the KD design – it offers a huge amount and agree we should take some of the budget from the Foreign Aid budget to fund at least 2 hospital ships that can be used for humanitarian needs (perhaps with Medicins sans Frontiers/Red Cross providing medical staff and oversight). We at least then have assets at our disposal if needed and are doing good with our aid budget when we don’t.

        • I agree. It is the size and value for money that we seem to be getting with the MARS tanker build (the Tides) that makes me optimistic that if we just have some ambition we could make MARS SSS even better than Karel Doorman class and provide a fantastic backbone for the RFA but if only 3 are built then it becomes pointless because one of the benefits of something like a KD class is its flexibility and with only 3 the MARS SSS would be fully occupied in their replenishment roles and never have any availability for other roles.

          • Julian

            Couldn’t agree more – I was on the RN site today and the RFA have 10 ships – 3 of which are bays.

            It is pitiful and woefully inadequate for what is being required of this proud force.

            I believe the RN/RFA need 8 tides and 8 KD like SSS that will not only provide all of the supply requirements of the RN but could also allow for a level of flexibility currently not available to the UK.

            Well worth investing in and I agree with you that the UK is capable of improving on the KD.

            I believe we did look at purchasing the KD so at least we should have some knowledge of what it is capable of.

  5. KeiranC

    I agree with your view – but would say that I am willing to compromise in two areas.

    1. I would prefer more Apache helicopters to tanks (if I had to make a choice) that could fly from the deck and a KD could have 12 or more (6 hanger – 6 deck)
    2. Whilst I would prefer LPD’s I do see a KD style Tide design being able to deliver similar capability by either a steel beach and a set of ship to shore connectors (hovercraft) or a higher volume of CB90’s.

    Both of the above ideas are often seen as too far fetched by many, but my rationale is that given the size of our armed forces now – they need to be operating at the high end and become more of an asymmetrical force, that could include a swarm of CB90’s launched from a KD style platform working in tandem with a helicopter force of merlins and Apaches. Surely this is a game changer if we could make it happen. The only way I see this happening though is to forego tanks (which we refused to send to Afghanistan) and lend themselves to wide area fighting (which as an Island we shouldn’t get involved in too much)

    For me these ships would provide some much flexibility that it is untrue. A helicopter carrier, an amphibious platform, a hospital, a MCM mothership and not forgetting its core task of Solid stores supply. The question is can we afford not to have a KD style asset in our reduced fleet.

    Time for the UKAF to become an expeditionary force again and allow our Central European partners to do the heavy armour thing – we can and should do more light, fast and lethal formations.

    • Hi, sorry for the late reply

      Yes I understand the need for a KD style platform, I agree they would be great additions as long as they can lift the same amount if not more than Albion and Bulwark.

      I do disagree with your last statement, we have plenty of light, fast and lethal formations,

      16 air assault brigade, SAS, SBS, SFSG, Mountain leaders and the brigade patrol troop all specialize in the type of operation you mention. But landing a full commando unit with 6 companies cannot be done with CB90’s, our commando units need armor, tracked vehicles and stores to make inland manoeuvres.

      The last big amphibious operation in Iraq was a great success, our Royal marines were inserted fast by air but the beach was heavily mined so the armor and tracked vehicles could not follow, so the Marines relied on Challenger 2 squadrons coming over from Kuwait and heavy american air support to thwart the Iraqi T55 counter attack. And the RM had US marines and Delta with them, but without armor, stores and tracked vehicles to manoeuvre they are highly vulnerable to any heavy armor counter attack.

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