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  #101  
Old 04-01-2018, 09:32
gruntfuttock gruntfuttock is offline
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

We have known for a couple of years that Ocean was going to be got rid of, so I don't know what all the fuss is about. Perhaps we might now be able to at least save Albion or Bulwark or both.

The RN has had good use from Ocean, and it is now time for her to go, unfortunate thought that might be.

What would we have got for her as scrap value from Turkey ? So selling her to Brazil is the best deal.

In regards to the UK giving £80m in aid to Brazil, well we give aid to far less deserving countries/organizations, and as has been said before, this is more of a political move than anything else.

Brazil like many countries in the world, has been going through a time of economic hardship. She is though a country with huge future potential, and will be a great asset for the UK as a future trading partner.

As Brexit looms we need to keep these countries onside, we will be needing them. So perhaps there is method in the seeming madness in this case.

Just a thought.

GF
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  #102  
Old 04-01-2018, 10:24
gruntfuttock gruntfuttock is offline
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

A great article from the 'Thinpinstripedline' really worth a read :-


Sale of the Century? Why selling HMS OCEAN is a sensible decision.
The Brazilian Navy has reportedly announced their purchase of HMS OCEAN for approximately £84m, with the vessel likely to transfer to their ownership upon decommissioning later this year. While the MOD is yet to formally acknowledge this news, it seems likely that OCEAN will have a new future in South America ahead of her.

This news has been met with sadness and some anger from supporters of the Royal Navy, who see the loss of the LPH as a real blow to the RN and a sign of deep and unnecessary defence cuts, particularly given she had a refit only a few years ago for further service. To Humphrey though, the loss of OCEAN is inevitable and the decision to part with her this way is the right one.

The LPH project has its roots in the mid-1980s when a requirement emerged for a pair of cheap Aviation Support Ships to replace HERMES and BULWARK for the task of delivering the Royal Marines to Norway. This was stalled, deferred or otherwise delayed until in 1993 an order was placed for a single unit, which became OCEAN. Intended to be built on the cheap, and not to full military specifications, she quickly became a valuable part of the RN.

Over the last 20-year OCEAN has served in a variety of theatres including the West Indies in disaster relief, the Gulf in both an LPH and an afloat 1* command role (CTF50) and more variously in different crises that the UK has been involved in over the years. Without doubt she has more than proven her worth in this time.

But, she is also an older lady and is approaching the end of her design life in the RN. It is technically feasible to extend her lifespan, and indeed until the 2015 SDSR the intent appears to have been to run her on until 2022. Instead, the RN is choosing to decommission her four years earlier, but in reality at about the point that she was always scheduled to go.


HMS OCEAN at sea

Why Go Early?
In the 2010 SDSR the RN agreed on a plan to lose the Harrier, delete HMS ARK ROYAL and convert one of the CVF into a CTOL carrier, while the other would be in reserve and realistically sold.

The vision for the Force 2020 (the planned force ten years post review) required an LPH and a CTOL CVF, with the Littoral Manoeuvre function being carried out from the LPH. This meant the RN chose to run on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS as a helicopter carrier for a few years, thus enabling OCEAN to undergo one final refit, with the plan to pay her off as OCEAN returned to service (a plan shortened by the RN running out of manpower in 2014 and thus decommissioning her).

The hope appears to have been that in the intervening few years, funding would be found to either run on the other CVF as an LPH (and not convert to a CTOL carrier), or that OCEAN would somehow be replaced capability wise at an undetermined point (with all references to the putative LPH Replacement disappearing around this time). It does not appear that the RN ever gave real thought to replacing OCEAN except by a CVF platform.

The RN was clear that even with a CTOL CVF in service, there would only ever be two ‘carrier’ platforms operated in 2020, and there was almost certainly no plan to run all three simultaneously – the manpower and resources did not exist for this. Instead the RN hopes appeared to have been to become a single fixed wing carrier and single LPH navy on two different platforms.

The big change to this requirement came in 2015, when the SDSR confirmed that the RN would keep both carriers in active service, and that neither would be CTOL. Suddenly the RN found itself planning for a future where it would have two CVF available, both of which would need to have manpower available to crew them. It also meant that the RN could make modifications to the ships to ensure that either of them could operate as an LPH and carry helicopters and troops as well as a fixed wing airgroup.

This decision has had major ramifications for OCEAN – suddenly the need for her to remain in service was gone. The LPH role that she would have done would now be filled by two newer and vastly more capable ships – the UK wasn’t losing capability but gaining it. In practical terms the RN actually would have more chance of an LPH being available without OCEAN as CVF availability will be higher, both can role as an LPH (rather than CTOL which would not do this task) and with both platforms active, there is far less chance of the nightmare situation of both the CTOL carrier and the old LPH being stuck in refit at the same time.

From a capability perspective, the move to CVF makes a lot of sense. There are issues to be resolved (arguably the littoral manoeuvre capability offered by her landing craft, the vehicle issue and the question of what to do about afloat 1&2* command platforms and where to put them), but OCEAN paying off is not going to remove the LPH capability from the UK toolkit.

The second problem has been that even if the RN wanted to run OCEAN on, it has run out of manpower to do so. This year will see QUEEN ELIZABETH at sea doing complex trials, drawing heavily on the Fleet Air Arm personnel to do so. As PRINCE OF WALES (POW) stands up, more and more crew (usually very specialised engineers and the like) will be needed to bring her out of build. On the old plan this wouldn’t have been an issue – one would have gone straight into reserve. Now, the RN has to bring both carriers into service at roughly the same time (a helpful reminder of RN capability here is that it is the only navy in the world currently introducing two supercarriers into service at roughly the same time).

OCEAN requires a lot of specialist crew who will be needed on QE and POW, and more importantly so will their reliefs. The manpower planners have not been working on the assumption of three carriers available and at sea (something the RN arguably has not done consistently for many years), and so the manpower structure is not designed to provide this. It could be changed, but would need many years to produce the right numbers of people in the right slots to deliver it without breaking manpower and causing retention challenges.


The paying off of HMS OCEAN will be a sad loss to the RN, but does not mean that it will find itself bereft of capability. If anything the question better asked is what would the RN actually do with an LPH platform if it had both CVF active as well?

Over the next five years the RN is going to find itself with a glut of deck space and a reduction in airframes to fly from them. The rotary wing aviation force is realistically coalescing around Chinook, Merlin and Lynx with a small number of Apaches possibly flying too. These airframes will not be available in large numbers, and will be heavily tasked across the globe.

The reality is that even if OCEAN were to run on for a year or two more, the aircraft to operate from her simply don’t exist. They will be operating on the CVF for trials, or deployed elsewhere. There is a danger that OCEAN would sail on, but with few aircraft available to embark – her deployment to the Med in 2016 is a good example of this, she spent much of her time in the Middle East with one or two Merlin embarked at most.

The wider issue too is that for all the talk of regenerating fixed wing carrier aviation, we are many years away from seeing a genuinely large STOVL force at sea. At best the UK will see 12-20 jets embarked on one CVF most of the time, with the force not acquiring large numbers until the late 2020s. What this means is there will be a lot of empty deck space to fill on CVF, and a second deck able to focus on LPH work while one focuses on fixed wing duties. It is hard to see where the need is for an older LPH to run on when the assets that would fly from her either don’t exist or will be on CVF instead.
The wider versatility of the platform is recognised (hospital capability and command platform too), but for all of this, the UK only has a small number of deployable battle staffs. It is hard to envisage a crisis now that would see the UK needing to send OCEAN but not QE or POW to maintain an at sea presence and battle staffs – again, the skills needed to maintain and run these are intensive and the manpower limited. It is difficult to envisage OCEAN being needed as a command platform when other more modern ones are available.

Running her on with CVF as well would not have magically generated an LPH full of troops and helicopters to deploy. It would have given the RN an old helicopter carrier without many aircraft to fly from her, acting as a manpower drain to prevent them fully manning other ships to keep her at sea for reasons of prestige, not practicality.

The decision to run on OCEAN until 2022 would make sense in a world where there was no other LPH platform available, and where CVF would be focused on purely delivering carrier strike, and not other duties too. In a world where you have two CVF, the rationale for OCEAN as well quickly vanishes.

Why Sell?
There have been suggestions that instead of selling OCEAN, she should be placed in reserve. This is not a great thing to do for two main reasons. Firstly, putting a ship into reserve does not mean the ship is available for use in a crisis. Ships are expensive to maintain, require a lot of attention and maintenance and the cost of keeping one in operationally usable reserve (e.g. maintained in a position where she could go to sea in a crisis with minimal effort) is not far off the cost and manpower bill of keeping her active anyway.

Once in reserve a ship slowly loses capability and habitability. To ensure she would be usable would require an expensive ‘pre reserve refit’ to essentially prepare her properly for preservation. This would cost a lot of money that the RN does not have spare in order to tie a ship alongside that would never sail again. After a year or two in reserve, the work required to refurbish her would be significant to the point of being pointless – by the time she re-entered service, the crisis would be over.

The RN has no need for OCEAN in reserve, and to do so would actually be misleading the public. She would not be a credible asset to reactivate in an emergency – once the ship goes, all the spares and supply contracts are stopped. There would be no spare parts left for her (a challenge for a one of a kind design) and the chances of finding them, fixing them and getting her to sea again would be enormous.

The future
It is telling that the RN is not seemingly putting HMS BULWARK into the same level of deep reserve that happened to HMS ALBION. The sheer length and cost of the refit to bring ALBION back into service was such that it is deemed cheaper to keep her in some very low readiness state, rather than put her into reserve and bring her out in due course. Similarly it would require people the RN doesn’t have to keep her alongside, rather than putting these people to fill billets in operational warships at sea. Proper preservation of warships to use them again is expensive and time consuming – there is a reason why modern navies don’t do it anymore.

The second reason to sell her ‘hot’ is that it maximises the value the UK can get for her. A car sold with the key in the ignition and the one careful owner having loved her and used her till the day she is sold will get a lot more money than the same car after five years parked on the street with no maintenance done.

OCEAN is worth £85m now because she is usable. In two or three years time, the cost of repairs and refit work alone would make her next to worthless. It is worth looking at the brochures put out by the Defence Disposal Sales Agency to see just how poor material condition ships get into very quickly once decommissioned. To stand a chance of selling her for anything other than scrap, a ‘hot sale’ is essential as the Brazilians will be able to take her on as a going concern, rather than an inert hull.

It is also good news for UK industry too, with UK yards likely to be the beneficiaries of any post sale refit, and in the longer term it cements the UK and Brazil closely together as strategic partners. For the UK, this sale helps thicken a key long term strategic relationship, and it benefits the UK taxpayer.

Is she a loss?
There appear to be a number of myths gaining ground on the loss of OCEAN. Firstly, that she is going without replacement – whereas in fact the aviation and troop lift capability is being replaced through a different platform. It may not be the same, but it is extremely capable for what the RN wants to do with it.

Secondly, there is a myth that this decommissioning is being forced on the Royal Navy by the MOD, and that Admirals should fight it. Sadly, the myth of the powerless Admirals is a strong one – the reality is that the 1st Sea Lord has considerable discretion as to how his budget is spent and what he prioritises.

During spending rounds, there is always an ‘enhancements’ round, where opportunities to spend new or saved money are considered in order to uplift some areas of capability (e.g. the phrase is usually something like ‘this was a SDSR funded enhancement’). This is where the most important ‘need to have / nice to haves’ are considered and a decision taken on what to fund.

The RN could have chosen at several points to run a ‘extend OCEAN OSD to 20XX’ option. This would have needed comprehensive costing showing the cost of running her on (running costs, refit costs, ancillary costs etc), plus the wider impact on manpower (e.g. what would be gapped or where people would have extended sea drafts to fill her), and what doing this would mean for the delivery of other goals such as regenerating Carrier Strike. If it was deemed sufficiently important, then the RN could have found the money and people to run her on.

The fact is that the RN has repeatedly chosen not to fund an ‘Extend OCEAN OSD’ option. This in itself says that the RN isn’t totally convinced of the need to keep both CVF and an old LPH at sea, and similarly, that it doesn’t see the need to keep her in reserve. OCEAN is ending her days because the Royal Navy doesn’t see the value in keeping her on.

Libya 2011

Unfortunately, these subtle arguments have been lost in the noise about defence cuts and the perception that the UK doesn’t have a navy anymore and other such errant nonsense. The focus is not on the way in which the capability is being continued, but on the paying off as planned of a ship who has done the job she was designed to do with a replacement capability on its way.

There is an extremely positive story to tell here, but it is frustrating that the public are being fed a diet of misleading information without the wider context as to what is coming to replace OCEAN. Until there is a truly effective and fast MOD rebuttals service, which doesn’t just push out turgid and woefully short Lines to Take, and which seemingly grinds to a halt when people go on leave, then parts of MOD will have to continue to take the blame for a frankly poor set of coverage for what should be a total non-story. It is frustrating as a champion of the MOD deserving far better coverage than it gets to see the way that twitter was alive with rumours and media speculation, while the MOD didn’t push out a press line. Even today in the ‘defence in the media’ blog, there is scarcely any acknowledgement of the issue. Instead thanks to a stunning inability by parts of the MOD to push out an aggressive response to this story and kill it stone dead, 2018 has begun with yet another self-inflicted PR problem for the Royal Navy.

All ships must pay off – it is an inevitability since time immemorial. The loss of OCEAN will be a sad day for the RN, and many former members of her crew and augmentees (including Humphrey) will be saddened to see a ship they associate with happy memories fade away. But, let us focus not on misleading tales of what has been lost, but instead on the superb future that the RN and Fleet Air Arm have this year, and the opportunities it presents. 2018 promises a long held moment of recovery and rebirth for the Royal Navy – let us seize it and embrace it positively, and not dwell too long on what has happened in the past.


Posted 14 hours ago by Sir Humphrey
7 View comments

Zanahoria3 January 2018 at 20:45

Thank you for taking the time to write a very clear and convincing article.
Your point about the poor PR response from the MoD highlights an area of concern with regard to recruitment, not only in the sense that potential recruits will be put off by negative news stories, but also the implication that in failing to correct the general public misapprehension surrounding the paying off of Ocean an opportunity to promote a positive story to support recruitment was missed.
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Charles Cross3 January 2018 at 21:25

Thank you for an informative and totally credible insight into how these decisions are made.
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Anonymous3 January 2018 at 22:04

Totally agree with this post. It is clear that the loss of Ocean is a non-story which has been blown out of all proportion by a misguided, ill-informed media. The last thing the RN needs right now is a big, old and empty ship draining resources when there are far more important things to spend the money on. Placing her in reserve is a complete non-starter. Remember when Invincible was decommissioned 7 years early and supposedly put in reserve? Within 3/4 years she was a rotting shell that could never have gone to sea again.
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Alan Radisic4 January 2018 at 01:32

excellent
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WMM4 January 2018 at 06:31

While selling Ocean was probably the correct decision, I do have to wonder just how effective the new carriers will be in the LPH role considering that they lack LCVP davits, stern ramps, and dedicated spaces for Marines and their equipment.
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fruit man4 January 2018 at 08:41

Excellent explanation as always.
Should Ocean's capabilities have been replaced by a RFA equivalent? Ocean was built to civilian standards, with lean manning would it have been possible to make a new build replacement compliant with civilian regs as well? Instead of building in the UK, following the precedent set on building oilers abroad we probably could have a cheaper ship due to getting efficient SK and Japanese yards competing. Accepting it wouldn't be armed, it would get us a lot of the Ocean capabilities at less of a impact on the RN manning position. This would allow personnel resources to be concentrated on getting multiple air components generated, with the aim to be platform agnostic, the bit that the RN has the key capability in.
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jumping-all-over-the-world4 January 2018 at 09:28

I've only recently discovered this particular blog, and since Think Defence has wound down I've struggled to find many really well informed and considered blogs on Defence.

This is a very well written piece, I also really enjoyed the peice about 2 Stars in the military.

I must admit as a serving SNCO I have often berated what I saw as excessive 'starred' officer numbers, but your article lends new perspective. Thank you.
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  #103  
Old 04-01-2018, 13:26
Jack65 Jack65 is online now
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

Quote:
Originally Posted by gruntfuttock View Post
We have known for a couple of years that Ocean was going to be got rid of, so I don't know what all the fuss is about. Perhaps we might now be able to at least save Albion or Bulwark or both.

The RN has had good use from Ocean, and it is now time for her to go, unfortunate thought that might be.

What would we have got for her as scrap value from Turkey ? So selling her to Brazil is the best deal.

In regards to the UK giving £80m in aid to Brazil, well we give aid to far less deserving countries/organizations, and as has been said before, this is more of a political move than anything else.

Brazil like many countries in the world, has been going through a time of economic hardship. She is though a country with huge future potential, and will be a great asset for the UK as a future trading partner.

As Brexit looms we need to keep these countries onside, we will be needing them. So perhaps there is method in the seeming madness in this case.

Just a thought.

GF
Interesting thought about keeping Brazil onside as it were, politically motivated or otherwise. Just when they have to give up on Sao Paulo, they magically get gifted an LPH by the UK. One way of laying future trading foundations.
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  #104  
Old 05-01-2018, 12:44
VirtualF VirtualF is offline
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Join Date: Mar 2009
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

Quote:
Originally Posted by gruntfuttock View Post
We have known for a couple of years that Ocean was going to be got rid of, so I don't know what all the fuss is about. Perhaps we might now be able to at least save Albion or Bulwark or both.

The RN has had good use from Ocean, and it is now time for her to go, unfortunate thought that might be.

What would we have got for her as scrap value from Turkey ? So selling her to Brazil is the best deal.

In regards to the UK giving £80m in aid to Brazil, well we give aid to far less deserving countries/organizations, and as has been said before, this is more of a political move than anything else.

Brazil like many countries in the world, has been going through a time of economic hardship. She is though a country with huge future potential, and will be a great asset for the UK as a future trading partner.

As Brexit looms we need to keep these countries onside, we will be needing them. So perhaps there is method in the seeming madness in this case.

Just a thought.

GF
Agree.

The RN got a good few years out of her and made more money than scrapping.If it helps with further trade - even better.

And seeing as the Indian Navy managed to squeeze another 30 years out of an already 30 year old ship I wouldn't be surprised if HMS Ocean/what ever the Brazilians call her, lasts for a good few years more than designed/expected.
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  #105  
Old 05-01-2018, 21:49
RANFAN RANFAN is offline
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

Quote:
Originally Posted by VirtualF View Post
Agree.

The RN got a good few years out of her and made more money than scrapping.If it helps with further trade - even better.

And seeing as the Indian Navy managed to squeeze another 30 years out of an already 30 year old ship I wouldn't be surprised if HMS Ocean/what ever the Brazilians call her, lasts for a good few years more than designed/expected.
No surprise there if you keep throwing money at it, but it eventually has to come to a point where it become uneconomical.

HMAS Tobruk led a similar life the RAN tried to shift of to NZ in the 1990's but declined to manning pressures, the UK looked at as did the Portuguese with no takers.

Its ironic when all that was going on she was supposed to pay off with the arrival of the Kanimbla's but she out lived those in RAN service, payed off 2015
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  #106  
Old 06-01-2018, 01:36
Jack65 Jack65 is online now
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

Quote:
Originally Posted by gruntfuttock View Post
A great article from the 'Thinpinstripedline' really worth a read :-


Sale of the Century? Why selling HMS OCEAN is a sensible decision.
The Brazilian Navy has reportedly announced their purchase of HMS OCEAN for approximately £84m, with the vessel likely to transfer to their ownership upon decommissioning later this year. While the MOD is yet to formally acknowledge this news, it seems likely that OCEAN will have a new future in South America ahead of her.

This news has been met with sadness and some anger from supporters of the Royal Navy, who see the loss of the LPH as a real blow to the RN and a sign of deep and unnecessary defence cuts, particularly given she had a refit only a few years ago for further service. To Humphrey though, the loss of OCEAN is inevitable and the decision to part with her this way is the right one.

The LPH project has its roots in the mid-1980s when a requirement emerged for a pair of cheap Aviation Support Ships to replace HERMES and BULWARK for the task of delivering the Royal Marines to Norway. This was stalled, deferred or otherwise delayed until in 1993 an order was placed for a single unit, which became OCEAN. Intended to be built on the cheap, and not to full military specifications, she quickly became a valuable part of the RN.

Over the last 20-year OCEAN has served in a variety of theatres including the West Indies in disaster relief, the Gulf in both an LPH and an afloat 1* command role (CTF50) and more variously in different crises that the UK has been involved in over the years. Without doubt she has more than proven her worth in this time.

But, she is also an older lady and is approaching the end of her design life in the RN. It is technically feasible to extend her lifespan, and indeed until the 2015 SDSR the intent appears to have been to run her on until 2022. Instead, the RN is choosing to decommission her four years earlier, but in reality at about the point that she was always scheduled to go.


HMS OCEAN at sea

Why Go Early?
In the 2010 SDSR the RN agreed on a plan to lose the Harrier, delete HMS ARK ROYAL and convert one of the CVF into a CTOL carrier, while the other would be in reserve and realistically sold.

The vision for the Force 2020 (the planned force ten years post review) required an LPH and a CTOL CVF, with the Littoral Manoeuvre function being carried out from the LPH. This meant the RN chose to run on HMS ILLUSTRIOUS as a helicopter carrier for a few years, thus enabling OCEAN to undergo one final refit, with the plan to pay her off as OCEAN returned to service (a plan shortened by the RN running out of manpower in 2014 and thus decommissioning her).

The hope appears to have been that in the intervening few years, funding would be found to either run on the other CVF as an LPH (and not convert to a CTOL carrier), or that OCEAN would somehow be replaced capability wise at an undetermined point (with all references to the putative LPH Replacement disappearing around this time). It does not appear that the RN ever gave real thought to replacing OCEAN except by a CVF platform.

The RN was clear that even with a CTOL CVF in service, there would only ever be two ‘carrier’ platforms operated in 2020, and there was almost certainly no plan to run all three simultaneously – the manpower and resources did not exist for this. Instead the RN hopes appeared to have been to become a single fixed wing carrier and single LPH navy on two different platforms.

The big change to this requirement came in 2015, when the SDSR confirmed that the RN would keep both carriers in active service, and that neither would be CTOL. Suddenly the RN found itself planning for a future where it would have two CVF available, both of which would need to have manpower available to crew them. It also meant that the RN could make modifications to the ships to ensure that either of them could operate as an LPH and carry helicopters and troops as well as a fixed wing airgroup.

This decision has had major ramifications for OCEAN – suddenly the need for her to remain in service was gone. The LPH role that she would have done would now be filled by two newer and vastly more capable ships – the UK wasn’t losing capability but gaining it. In practical terms the RN actually would have more chance of an LPH being available without OCEAN as CVF availability will be higher, both can role as an LPH (rather than CTOL which would not do this task) and with both platforms active, there is far less chance of the nightmare situation of both the CTOL carrier and the old LPH being stuck in refit at the same time.

From a capability perspective, the move to CVF makes a lot of sense. There are issues to be resolved (arguably the littoral manoeuvre capability offered by her landing craft, the vehicle issue and the question of what to do about afloat 1&2* command platforms and where to put them), but OCEAN paying off is not going to remove the LPH capability from the UK toolkit.

The second problem has been that even if the RN wanted to run OCEAN on, it has run out of manpower to do so. This year will see QUEEN ELIZABETH at sea doing complex trials, drawing heavily on the Fleet Air Arm personnel to do so. As PRINCE OF WALES (POW) stands up, more and more crew (usually very specialised engineers and the like) will be needed to bring her out of build. On the old plan this wouldn’t have been an issue – one would have gone straight into reserve. Now, the RN has to bring both carriers into service at roughly the same time (a helpful reminder of RN capability here is that it is the only navy in the world currently introducing two supercarriers into service at roughly the same time).

OCEAN requires a lot of specialist crew who will be needed on QE and POW, and more importantly so will their reliefs. The manpower planners have not been working on the assumption of three carriers available and at sea (something the RN arguably has not done consistently for many years), and so the manpower structure is not designed to provide this. It could be changed, but would need many years to produce the right numbers of people in the right slots to deliver it without breaking manpower and causing retention challenges.


The paying off of HMS OCEAN will be a sad loss to the RN, but does not mean that it will find itself bereft of capability. If anything the question better asked is what would the RN actually do with an LPH platform if it had both CVF active as well?

Over the next five years the RN is going to find itself with a glut of deck space and a reduction in airframes to fly from them. The rotary wing aviation force is realistically coalescing around Chinook, Merlin and Lynx with a small number of Apaches possibly flying too. These airframes will not be available in large numbers, and will be heavily tasked across the globe.

The reality is that even if OCEAN were to run on for a year or two more, the aircraft to operate from her simply don’t exist. They will be operating on the CVF for trials, or deployed elsewhere. There is a danger that OCEAN would sail on, but with few aircraft available to embark – her deployment to the Med in 2016 is a good example of this, she spent much of her time in the Middle East with one or two Merlin embarked at most.

The wider issue too is that for all the talk of regenerating fixed wing carrier aviation, we are many years away from seeing a genuinely large STOVL force at sea. At best the UK will see 12-20 jets embarked on one CVF most of the time, with the force not acquiring large numbers until the late 2020s. What this means is there will be a lot of empty deck space to fill on CVF, and a second deck able to focus on LPH work while one focuses on fixed wing duties. It is hard to see where the need is for an older LPH to run on when the assets that would fly from her either don’t exist or will be on CVF instead.
The wider versatility of the platform is recognised (hospital capability and command platform too), but for all of this, the UK only has a small number of deployable battle staffs. It is hard to envisage a crisis now that would see the UK needing to send OCEAN but not QE or POW to maintain an at sea presence and battle staffs – again, the skills needed to maintain and run these are intensive and the manpower limited. It is difficult to envisage OCEAN being needed as a command platform when other more modern ones are available.

Running her on with CVF as well would not have magically generated an LPH full of troops and helicopters to deploy. It would have given the RN an old helicopter carrier without many aircraft to fly from her, acting as a manpower drain to prevent them fully manning other ships to keep her at sea for reasons of prestige, not practicality.

The decision to run on OCEAN until 2022 would make sense in a world where there was no other LPH platform available, and where CVF would be focused on purely delivering carrier strike, and not other duties too. In a world where you have two CVF, the rationale for OCEAN as well quickly vanishes.

Why Sell?
There have been suggestions that instead of selling OCEAN, she should be placed in reserve. This is not a great thing to do for two main reasons. Firstly, putting a ship into reserve does not mean the ship is available for use in a crisis. Ships are expensive to maintain, require a lot of attention and maintenance and the cost of keeping one in operationally usable reserve (e.g. maintained in a position where she could go to sea in a crisis with minimal effort) is not far off the cost and manpower bill of keeping her active anyway.

Once in reserve a ship slowly loses capability and habitability. To ensure she would be usable would require an expensive ‘pre reserve refit’ to essentially prepare her properly for preservation. This would cost a lot of money that the RN does not have spare in order to tie a ship alongside that would never sail again. After a year or two in reserve, the work required to refurbish her would be significant to the point of being pointless – by the time she re-entered service, the crisis would be over.

The RN has no need for OCEAN in reserve, and to do so would actually be misleading the public. She would not be a credible asset to reactivate in an emergency – once the ship goes, all the spares and supply contracts are stopped. There would be no spare parts left for her (a challenge for a one of a kind design) and the chances of finding them, fixing them and getting her to sea again would be enormous.

The future
It is telling that the RN is not seemingly putting HMS BULWARK into the same level of deep reserve that happened to HMS ALBION. The sheer length and cost of the refit to bring ALBION back into service was such that it is deemed cheaper to keep her in some very low readiness state, rather than put her into reserve and bring her out in due course. Similarly it would require people the RN doesn’t have to keep her alongside, rather than putting these people to fill billets in operational warships at sea. Proper preservation of warships to use them again is expensive and time consuming – there is a reason why modern navies don’t do it anymore.

The second reason to sell her ‘hot’ is that it maximises the value the UK can get for her. A car sold with the key in the ignition and the one careful owner having loved her and used her till the day she is sold will get a lot more money than the same car after five years parked on the street with no maintenance done.

OCEAN is worth £85m now because she is usable. In two or three years time, the cost of repairs and refit work alone would make her next to worthless. It is worth looking at the brochures put out by the Defence Disposal Sales Agency to see just how poor material condition ships get into very quickly once decommissioned. To stand a chance of selling her for anything other than scrap, a ‘hot sale’ is essential as the Brazilians will be able to take her on as a going concern, rather than an inert hull.

It is also good news for UK industry too, with UK yards likely to be the beneficiaries of any post sale refit, and in the longer term it cements the UK and Brazil closely together as strategic partners. For the UK, this sale helps thicken a key long term strategic relationship, and it benefits the UK taxpayer.

Is she a loss?
There appear to be a number of myths gaining ground on the loss of OCEAN. Firstly, that she is going without replacement – whereas in fact the aviation and troop lift capability is being replaced through a different platform. It may not be the same, but it is extremely capable for what the RN wants to do with it.

Secondly, there is a myth that this decommissioning is being forced on the Royal Navy by the MOD, and that Admirals should fight it. Sadly, the myth of the powerless Admirals is a strong one – the reality is that the 1st Sea Lord has considerable discretion as to how his budget is spent and what he prioritises.

During spending rounds, there is always an ‘enhancements’ round, where opportunities to spend new or saved money are considered in order to uplift some areas of capability (e.g. the phrase is usually something like ‘this was a SDSR funded enhancement’). This is where the most important ‘need to have / nice to haves’ are considered and a decision taken on what to fund.

The RN could have chosen at several points to run a ‘extend OCEAN OSD to 20XX’ option. This would have needed comprehensive costing showing the cost of running her on (running costs, refit costs, ancillary costs etc), plus the wider impact on manpower (e.g. what would be gapped or where people would have extended sea drafts to fill her), and what doing this would mean for the delivery of other goals such as regenerating Carrier Strike. If it was deemed sufficiently important, then the RN could have found the money and people to run her on.

The fact is that the RN has repeatedly chosen not to fund an ‘Extend OCEAN OSD’ option. This in itself says that the RN isn’t totally convinced of the need to keep both CVF and an old LPH at sea, and similarly, that it doesn’t see the need to keep her in reserve. OCEAN is ending her days because the Royal Navy doesn’t see the value in keeping her on.

Libya 2011

Unfortunately, these subtle arguments have been lost in the noise about defence cuts and the perception that the UK doesn’t have a navy anymore and other such errant nonsense. The focus is not on the way in which the capability is being continued, but on the paying off as planned of a ship who has done the job she was designed to do with a replacement capability on its way.

There is an extremely positive story to tell here, but it is frustrating that the public are being fed a diet of misleading information without the wider context as to what is coming to replace OCEAN. Until there is a truly effective and fast MOD rebuttals service, which doesn’t just push out turgid and woefully short Lines to Take, and which seemingly grinds to a halt when people go on leave, then parts of MOD will have to continue to take the blame for a frankly poor set of coverage for what should be a total non-story. It is frustrating as a champion of the MOD deserving far better coverage than it gets to see the way that twitter was alive with rumours and media speculation, while the MOD didn’t push out a press line. Even today in the ‘defence in the media’ blog, there is scarcely any acknowledgement of the issue. Instead thanks to a stunning inability by parts of the MOD to push out an aggressive response to this story and kill it stone dead, 2018 has begun with yet another self-inflicted PR problem for the Royal Navy.

All ships must pay off – it is an inevitability since time immemorial. The loss of OCEAN will be a sad day for the RN, and many former members of her crew and augmentees (including Humphrey) will be saddened to see a ship they associate with happy memories fade away. But, let us focus not on misleading tales of what has been lost, but instead on the superb future that the RN and Fleet Air Arm have this year, and the opportunities it presents. 2018 promises a long held moment of recovery and rebirth for the Royal Navy – let us seize it and embrace it positively, and not dwell too long on what has happened in the past.


Posted 14 hours ago by Sir Humphrey
7 View comments

Zanahoria3 January 2018 at 20:45

Thank you for taking the time to write a very clear and convincing article.
Your point about the poor PR response from the MoD highlights an area of concern with regard to recruitment, not only in the sense that potential recruits will be put off by negative news stories, but also the implication that in failing to correct the general public misapprehension surrounding the paying off of Ocean an opportunity to promote a positive story to support recruitment was missed.
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Charles Cross3 January 2018 at 21:25

Thank you for an informative and totally credible insight into how these decisions are made.
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Anonymous3 January 2018 at 22:04

Totally agree with this post. It is clear that the loss of Ocean is a non-story which has been blown out of all proportion by a misguided, ill-informed media. The last thing the RN needs right now is a big, old and empty ship draining resources when there are far more important things to spend the money on. Placing her in reserve is a complete non-starter. Remember when Invincible was decommissioned 7 years early and supposedly put in reserve? Within 3/4 years she was a rotting shell that could never have gone to sea again.
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Alan Radisic4 January 2018 at 01:32

excellent
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WMM4 January 2018 at 06:31

While selling Ocean was probably the correct decision, I do have to wonder just how effective the new carriers will be in the LPH role considering that they lack LCVP davits, stern ramps, and dedicated spaces for Marines and their equipment.
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fruit man4 January 2018 at 08:41

Excellent explanation as always.
Should Ocean's capabilities have been replaced by a RFA equivalent? Ocean was built to civilian standards, with lean manning would it have been possible to make a new build replacement compliant with civilian regs as well? Instead of building in the UK, following the precedent set on building oilers abroad we probably could have a cheaper ship due to getting efficient SK and Japanese yards competing. Accepting it wouldn't be armed, it would get us a lot of the Ocean capabilities at less of a impact on the RN manning position. This would allow personnel resources to be concentrated on getting multiple air components generated, with the aim to be platform agnostic, the bit that the RN has the key capability in.
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jumping-all-over-the-world4 January 2018 at 09:28

I've only recently discovered this particular blog, and since Think Defence has wound down I've struggled to find many really well informed and considered blogs on Defence.

This is a very well written piece, I also really enjoyed the peice about 2 Stars in the military.

I must admit as a serving SNCO I have often berated what I saw as excessive 'starred' officer numbers, but your article lends new perspective. Thank you.
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Hmm, an interesting but not wholly accurate article on the issue. Firstly the only thing a CVF and an Amphibious LPH have in common are a flat top. They are built for totally differing purposes and are not interchangeable despite the myths .....a CVF with its large length, wide beam and deep draught is designed to project air power from deep water, whilst the LPH with its smaller length, much narrower beam and shallower draught can operate far closer to the beach head manouvering in shallower coastal waters. The RN is not eager to see Ocean go and possibilities have been explored on how to keep her including transfer to RFA in place of Argus but accommodation on RFAs is superior to that of Warships so a complete overhaul.of Oceans accommodation would be required with no funds for something like that. You cannot take a CVF where you can take an LPH. Due to chronic manpower shortages and underfunding, the RN is being forced to cut one capability in order to crew another. Its a simple fact.
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Old 06-01-2018, 06:35
RANFAN RANFAN is offline
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

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Originally Posted by Jack65 View Post
Hmm, an interesting but not wholly accurate article on the issue. Firstly the only thing a CVF and an Amphibious LPH have in common are a flat top. They are built for totally differing purposes and are not interchangeable despite the myths .....a CVF with its large length, wide beam and deep draught is designed to project air power from deep water, whilst the LPH with its smaller length, much narrower beam and shallower draught can operate far closer to the beach head manouvering in shallower coastal waters. The RN is not eager to see Ocean go and possibilities have been explored on how to keep her including transfer to RFA in place of Argus but accommodation on RFAs is superior to that of Warships so a complete overhaul.of Oceans accommodation would be required with no funds for something like that. You cannot take a CVF where you can take an LPH. Due to chronic manpower shortages and underfunding, the RN is being forced to cut one capability in order to crew another. Its a simple fact.

A similar scenario to the RAN and F35B, becoming something other than core role.

A big risk with a platform that comprises 50% of all UK amphibious/strike capability. Do they really need to give aid to Pakistan and India 2 countries with nuclear weapons program and one with its own space program with a budget of 1.2b, aid just to those countries is roughly 500m per year

That alone would fund building 4x Canberra class over 5 years to replace Albion Bulwark and Ocean
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Old 06-01-2018, 10:41
Jack65 Jack65 is online now
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Default Re: HMS Ocean: Helicopter Assault Ship 1995-

Quote:
Originally Posted by RANFAN View Post
A similar scenario to the RAN and F35B, becoming something other than core role.

A big risk with a platform that comprises 50% of all UK amphibious/strike capability. Do they really need to give aid to Pakistan and India 2 countries with nuclear weapons program and one with its own space program with a budget of 1.2b, aid just to those countries is roughly 500m per year

That alone would fund building 4x Canberra class over 5 years to replace Albion Bulwark and Ocean
You've hit the nail squarely on the head there my friend. Why is the UK giving away all this money to Pakistan and India? Money our own armed forces badly need? Sadly it's because our Country is run by idiots!
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