RFA Stirling Castle, the new ‘mothership’ for mine warfare drone technology, arrived on the Clyde in late January to take her place at the forefront of supporting the next generation of the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures capability.

According to the Royal Navy here:

“The 6,000-tonne Stirling Castle began life as MV Island Crown, before undergoing conversion in Devonport which will allow her to operate as home to the Royal Navy’s new autonomous mine countermeasures systems. The ship’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary crew are working side-by-side with Zulu Squadron of the Mine and Threat Exploitation Group (MTXG), the Royal Navy’s mine countermeasures specialists based at Faslane.”

As the mothership, they add in a news release, RFA Stirling Castle has the capability to lift and transport the Royal Navy’s latest autonomous and remotely operated vessels to wherever they are required to keep the UK’s shipping lanes safe.

“I am very proud to be in command of this wonderful ship with the capability that it is bringing in support of the UK’s minehunting programme, which is at the cutting edge of autonomous systems technology,” Captain Richard Reville RFA, Stirling Castle’s Commanding Officer.

“We look forward to continuing our integration with MTXG to bring this exciting new capability into service.”

The ship will travel south soon to complete some final training in Devonport before returning to Scotland, where they will spend most of the year working with Zulu Squadron.

You can read more on this by clicking here.

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George has a degree in Cyber Security from Glasgow Caledonian University and has a keen interest in naval and cyber security matters and has appeared on national radio and television to discuss current events. George is on Twitter at @geoallison
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Jim
Jim
1 month ago

I think it’s a great idea using off the shelf commercial vessels for MCM and hope it works but we also need a solution for conducting MCM in a contested environment like Type 32.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Please post/share/paste exactly what you know about T32 and It’s design and purpose actually is …. You stated yesterday that the T32 was a replacement for the Hunts…. you stated that Rachel Reeves spoke to you directly about the T32…. You continue to mention the T32 like it’s a known Design….. Can I just ask you to actually share with the rest of us, what you actually know ? Because all that is officially known ( if it even ever get’s off the Cad,) is that the T32, will be a “Platform for Autonomous Vehicles” If you know for certain… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Personally I would like us to quietly forget the T32 for the time being and order NOW another five T31’s. If MCM is going to be carried out by unmanned whatevers I would agree with the view that a derived mothership, big or small would be ideal.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Yes… I’d happily agree…. We need hard hitting Ships and lot’s of them….. To think that we had 36 Mine Sweepers not so long ago, that were doing their thing all over the World and that 5 “Motherships” that were really supposed to be additional Frigates…. would be used to replace a few Hunts ….. is just ridiculous.. and even more so if the 5 T32’s have a 5500 Tonnage as opposed to the 9 still technically active 750 ton Hunts….. The Figures alone make this look silly…..

klonkie
klonkie
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Frank, I did like the idea of the RN reserve manning the mine hunter role. Used to be a thing in the 1980’s with the Ton and River class sweepers. The latter was based on a commercial trawler design – cost efficient and effective.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

It is nonsensical. All the kit going into a well armed 5500 tonner to act as caretaking support ship. Really?🙄

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Exactly, i’m not getting it at all….. however, if these ships or “Platforms for autonomous vehicles” actually were as described then I can see them carrying a whole range of different AV’s including sub surface, surface and Air, crafts all with weapons….. We are moving into a whole new era as witnessed in Ukraine…. Loitering and Suicide drones exist, Surface Drones exist, unmanned helicopters exist, Vixen is being developed…. all of these are relatively small and lightweight and capable of being carried, launched and recovered by a suitable vessel. You don’t need a 70 thousand ton aircraft carrier to launch… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

It’s something that needs some thought, but preferably it not taking ten years. I just have this thought that we’ll end up with a mish mash of a something ship. To my mind a frigate is not a minehunter. In any case we are proposing a whole class of MCM motherships, the Castle cllass, so what are they for? Let’s get our five extra T31, maybe Block 2, but let’s get on with it. Forget politics. Whoever wins defence is going to get hit.

Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

I see it a bit differently. Say we have the ambition to grow the RN fleet so as to have a global presence; not exactly restoring pax Britainica but definitely assuring an ability to police global trade routes and intervene in the littoral when necessary. The batch 2 Rivers are part of this plan as are the LRGs. Type 31 GP frigates are the next phase. T32 completes the plan. Mines are cheap weapons which state and non state actors could easily use to screw up our effect, so our global fleet of frigates must be self sufficient in MCM.… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

The problem is that almost every weapon likely to be in the hands of terrorist/non state groups is going to be simple and cause trouble. Unmanned air, sea and even sub surface candn be given to such a group by the likes of Iran. Missiles too. A single mine in the right place could hit the likes of a Q.E. or T45.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Ah, threeby hangs a tale Andy. Fads are what this country seems to be all about these days.

Richard Beedall
Richard Beedall
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

Sadly, it’s actually four motherships. Stirling Castle is essentially a prototype/trails ship to inform the final design of “up to 4 MCM Logistics Support Vessels (LSV)”. She will almost certainly be disposed off in the early 2030’s when these start to enter service. The LSV’s will be based at HMNB Clyde, Portsmouth or Devonport, and Bahrain, with the final ship providing operational flexibility by covering for refits et al. It was expected that one or two additional ships using the same basic LSV hull would be built in a hydrographic role, replacing the two Echo’s, but that now seems very unlikely given that… Read more »

Supportive Bloke
Supportive Bloke
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Then you are on the same page as Babcock who are talking T31BII.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago

Good to hear. As i said i would love the Tories to order now. Cynical maybe…but the RN benefits.😉

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago

Yes it’s like news on here yesterday re Babcock and the T-32 never happened for some. What’s good news is that it seems we know that design concepts of that vessel are being developed so that when decisions have to be made to ensure the follow on they will not only happen but the right ships will be produced. It’s important the next few years are used to assess exactly what role is needed for these vessels rather than build what is already designed just because it’s easier.

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago

T31 B2, plus a sonar fit this time. Even the Italian carriers have hull sonar. We’re an Island maritine nation with a tiny escort fleet & only some of those have decent ASW capability, madness.

Drone motherships need better defence weaponry systems too.

Jim
Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

I would agree unless the T32 comes with some substantial cost benefits over T31 such as reduced crew requirements.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

The speed we move at Jim the T32 is ten years off.

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

🙄Yep.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

How ? The Iver Huitfeldt has a crew of 165. The T31 is basically a derived version and operating a crew of 90/100 with surplus accommodation. So we have already cut the ships company, and a lot of that was due to omitting very large parts of the capability such as AAW. To be quite honest and given extra capability is being added I have a funny feeling the lean manning level will grow. Just look at what happened to the increase in numbers required to crew the Queen Elizabeth’s after the initial trials. The Stirling Castle was an Offshore… Read more »

Geoff Roach
Geoff Roach
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoff Roach

Maybe (?) that could be addressed it for another batch.

Jim
Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  Frank

All I know is the designs that Babcock and BAE have shared, both for frigate sized vessels able to operate autonomous vehicles. The main purpose of those vehicles indeed the only vehicles we currently have are for MCM. Beyond that I know through Babcock that NZ expressed interest in the T32 design. It’s the retirement of the Hunt class and all RN MCM vessels that will potentially make budget and manpower space for the T32 which is the only reason it’s even being discussed. Much will also depend on the RFA Stirling castle trials.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Both the BAE and Babcock designs/proposals are Multi Role Frigates. MCM is not the main purpose…. They can carry many other Vehicles including manned and unmanned. These vehicles do exist and much thought will be put into AV’s these coming years… If T32 actually does get built, lets say 10 years and to the Babcock Design, then I can see these ships being way more costly that T31… the Babcock proposal includes a stretched hull and many additional systems all added to the base T31. edit…. the Royal Navy have recently returned to Predannack to test and trial new systems,… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by Frank
ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Which would you prefer a T32 (cost with Government supplied kit @£500 million) which can act as a Mothership, but probably never would due to our lack of Frigates. Or 8 of these adapted OSV ? (Stirling Castle cost £40 million and needed a refit and military equipment fitted). To be honest I am not a fan of the idea of using a Frigate as a MCM Mothership nor the purpose built ones like the Dutch/Belgian/French are building (2000 tonnes, self defence weapons and @€180 million each). I’m beginning to think that Flexible Mission Bays in Frigates is a waste… Read more »

Hugo
Hugo
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

The Multi mission bay is not solely for Mine hunting. And why do you believe the Frigates need more missiles. Their Radar is not suited for anything other than self defense.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugo

Well the radar isn’t Artisan but it can have extra CAMM, which are pretty useful in numbers. But to be honest the ship I was thinking more about the Multi Mission Bay in T26.

Hugo
Hugo
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

I know that. But same applies to T26, it does not have the Radar to do air defense. And we won’t have the strike missile stock to justify slapping them on our ASW frigates, so the number of cells is fine as is.

Spyinthesky
Spyinthesky
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Well Bae has indeed concept designed a T-26 derivative replacing the mission bay with a missile silo so I wonder how easy it would be to adapt if needed after the build process should it be deemed necessary.

Hugo
Hugo
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

More than likely impossible to add post construction. Very unlikely

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Spyinthesky

That’s what I had in mind. I know that one of the arguments for a fresh design for the T83 is to ensure design teams are kept busy. But we just don’t build enough numbers due having to absorb that cost over just a few hulls. It’s one of the reasons the T45 and T26B1 unit costs were so high, conversely we have successfully leveraged large elements of successive SSBN designs to the follow up SSN. It’s one of the reasons MOD are contemplating being able to increase the numbers of RN SSN from 7, the RAN boats really drive… Read more »

Jim
Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

Where’s your £500 million coming from? T31 are around £250 million and Babcock’s proposed design is just a T32 with a ramp.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

It’s not £500 million it’s @£500 million which is an approximate figure, but when the 5 T31 units costs are worked out post delivery I don’t think I’ll be far off (in fact I may be low balling it). For someone who is “supposedly” really close to Babcock I really can’t believe you still spin the “Mythical” £250 million Frigate bargain price. That headline sum of £250 million is a contractual & political bit of cloak and mirrors accounting as it was only for the original bare bone baseline ship without any of the Government supplied equipment included. Since the… Read more »

Last edited 1 month ago by ABCRodney
Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  ABCRodney

And…. If these T32’s are to have extra capabilities added, I can see the costs rising….. £500,000,000 for a MCN Mothership ? 🙄…. with 50 crew ? 🙄🙄.

Last edited 1 month ago by Frank
Paul.P
Paul.P
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Having sold Largs Bay and being seemingly unable to afford to use the LPDs, it is also a great idea to free up the remaining Bays for amphibious and littoral assignments!

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  Paul.P

The amphibious force is essential to take/retake territory across water & transport troops. Some of our best remaining troops are the marines, we must retain their enablers.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

Type 32 should stick to being a warship we cannot fanny around using it for MCMV. We have too few.
Just buy more of these Mothers OTS.

klonkie
klonkie
1 month ago

spot on DM! 👌

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

I wonder where this ship will end up spending most of its time, I assume it will end up replacing the Bay class in the Middle East….

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

The Clyde and North Sea more like…… SC is being based in Scotland to trial Autonomous MCM systems and in particular, the 3 Ten Ton Boats……. ( Apollo was passing through Yeovil a few hours ago) there is no possibility that she will be heading to any warzone anytime soon, if at all.

ABCRodney
ABCRodney
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

Well it all depends if this bright idea actually works (I suspect it will), but given its name of Stirling Castle I’d bet it stays put and we look at other options to obtain more (6/8 sounds about right). She is VARD designed PSV so very tough, seaworthy, flexible, economical and reasonably cheap at £40 million (2nd hand). It may not be a purpose built, all singing and dancing, naval spec Mothership with self defence guns a helicopter hanger and specially designed side davits for the Drone boats. But if it works OK and is way cheaper to run (crew… Read more »

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

In the UK.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago

It’s a shame really as the sea class sea boat ( the hull the autonomous mine warfare vessel is based on) actually has pretty good range and endurance and can be controlled from land..so home wise the autonomous vessels on their own would work..the mother ship should be more about hard to reach places and take over from the Bays in the Middle East.

Daniele Mandelli
Daniele Mandelli
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

I agree. I think a mother will eventually take over from one of the Bays, just not this one as the CASD has to take priority.
Maybe she will and a newer will remain here, who knows.

LongTime
LongTime
1 month ago

I suspect long term, autonomous MCM will be long distance and intelligent enough that it can be sent out ahead of the deploying/returning CASD patrol and coke home of it own accord with onshore oversight

Last edited 1 month ago by LongTime
Jon
Jon
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonathan

It’s only Stirling Castle that’s supposed to be UK based. The other three will be globe-trotters, and the obvious place for the first one of those will be the Gulf.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago
Reply to  Jon

I read that 3 would be UK based with one possibly Bahrain.

SteveM
SteveM
1 month ago

I hope these autonomous drones have v long range otherwise pointless having LRG’s if they cannot close a hostile coast as no MCM able to go in to clear approach? Stirling Castle is fine for post conflict clearance operations. Otherwise need someting able to carry half dozen harriers and protect them/itself. so nim t-31 type or even Absolmn type which has large deck and can launch recover CB-90 size boats and even carry vechiles so 3-4 for with each LRG would give all sorts of options

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago
Reply to  SteveM

That’s what we did in OP Granby we cleared lanes into Kuwait and continued clearing Mines until July 91 can’t see this new approach too mine clearing in an active zone being carried out using Civilians it might of taken us 4to5 weeks to get there but not 1 Hunt got damaged its a fools errand too place a large steel mothership close to a contested zone Just let this new approach too mine clearing be demoted to Route Surveying around the UK waters

Jim
Jim
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

In the Falkland’s we had to use Frigate hulls to detect mines. Fortunately the Argentines had not placed any there but if we were carrying out a similar operation at the other end of the world today we would likely still be using the same tactic as deploying small plastic hull warships in heavy seas is not easy. It may also be possible to do this with T26 but we are not blessed with many and they are expensive.

Tommo
Tommo
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim

We used a 21 going into San Carlos Bay we also used 3 Trawlers ie Junella and her sisters for Sweeping also although late getting there was HMS Brecon

Frank62
Frank62
1 month ago
Reply to  Tommo

Agreed.

Jonathan
Jonathan
1 month ago
Reply to  SteveM

They are based off the atlas Sea class 11 workboat. It’s a 11m Sea boat, with a speed of 25+ knots, an endurance of 18 hours.mission speed for the ARCIMS is 4-8knots. They have pretty good range and endurance.

Richard Beedall
Richard Beedall
1 month ago

X-fingers the trials go really well. The MOD and RN have staked the house on autonomous mine countermeasures systems. The rundown of the MCMV force is already so advanced (basically just six 40+ year old Hunt’s are left) that it is too late to reverse course.

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

“Too late to reverse course”….. lol… Sounds like the words used by HMS Chiddingfold’s Captain last month ! 😄

Frank
Frank
1 month ago

She’s inbound to Devonport currently.