Britain’s Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) program was begun in 2002, and aimed to buy up to 11 supply ships for the Royal Navy’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary. Unfortunately, all the project could produce was studies, MoD planning delays, and slow progress. In 2007, MARS was broken up into a series of smaller buys, with an initial focus on the critical state of the RFA’s fuel carriers. Even that effort ran into delays, but the last 3 years have seen Britain’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary retire 3 of its 4 Leaf Class replenishment oilers. Another 3 of its remaining 5 oilers were commissioned in 1984 or earlier, and their single-hull design no longer complies with MARPOL regulations for fuel-carrying ships.
Replacements are urgently needed, in order to keep the Royal Navy supplied around the world. In February 2012, Britain finally placed a MARS order for 4 oilers, which will measure over 200m long and around 37,000t apiece. It has been expected for some time that these ships would be built outside of Britain, and that has held true.
Contracts & Key Events
MARS is intended to involve more than 1 block buy. The initial buy involves the 4 Tide Class 37,000t MARS tankers, which will begin entering service in 2016. There are also plans for 3 MARS Fleet Solid Stores ships over the next 10 years, to replace the RFA’s two 23,384t Fort Rosalie Class ships, and the 33,675t RFA Fort Victoria.
2012 – 2017
April 6/17: The UK Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) has received the first of their delayed Tide-class tankers in the UK in order to undergo customisation and trials ahead of introduction to service at the end of this year. Built by South Korean firm Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) in partnership with BMT Defence Services, the RFA Tidespring was built as part of a $562 million deal to deliver four 39,000-tonne-displacement Tide-class tankers under the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) Tanker project to replace now-retired Leaf- and Rover-class single-hull tankers. The design of the Tide-class ships has been optimised for the support of carrier operations.
August 2/16: Delivery of a South Korean made fleet tanker for the British Royal Navy has now been delayed by seven months. Initially due to enter service in September, the vessel is still undergoing trials with manufacturer Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME). A total of four tankers are to be eventually delivered as part of the service’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) program.
Nov 14/12: Named. The MARS tankers will become the Tide Class, restoring a class that had left the fleet. The new ships will be named Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge, after previous ships; and Tideforce, which is a new name for the RFA. RFA, Commodore Bill Walworth confirms that the ships are on contract, with RFA Tidespring scheduled to enter service in 2016.
The original Tide Class fleet tankers were developed using the lessons of the World War II Pacific Campaign, and were the Royal Fleet Auxillary’s 1st purpose-designed replenishment tankers. They served worldwide from 1954 until 1991. UK MoD.
Class & ships named
Sept 14/12: Sub-contractors. Kelvin Hughes Surveillance in London, UK announces that they’ve been picked to supply the 4 MARS tankers’ integrated bridge systems (IBS) and helicopter control radars.
Each shipset will consist of 3 solid state SharpEye radars, accessed and controlled via multiple console mounted Naval MantaDigital tactical displays. The system will also include a suite of navigation sensors, a command and control system, and the helicopter control radar system. All of these elements will be integrated in the IBS.
Feb 27/12: Controversy. The choice of Daewoo as the MARS ships’ builder draws expected criticism, but it also draws a report that there was, in fact, a British bid for MARS. The Daily Mail reports that Fincantieri was partnered with BAE Shipbuilding, and would have built 1 of the 4 tankers in the UK, with 35% of the overall work taking place in Britain. This compares to just 20% for Daewoo, and no ships built in Britian. On the other hand, the Daily Mail’s report cites sources who say that Fincantieri’s bid was about GBP 675 million, compared to announced total of GBP 542 million for Daewoo + BMT.
The very existence of a bid that would have built a ship in Britain contradicts some key MoD statements, which make the story significant enough that British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond and Equipment Minister Peter Luff are forced to respond. Luff says that the Fincantieri bid “did not meet some fundamental requirements,” adding that even BAE has said that they don’t know the exact cost of building such a ship in the UK. Hammond doesn’t deny the partnership, and lays out an alternate defense. Based on the leaked letter cited by the Daily Mail, Hammond’s 1st statement is very problematic, but the rest is straightforward:
“No British firm put in a bid and the Italian company never indicated during the two-year bid process that they would build any of the tankers in the UK.
When we are building complex warships or highly sophisticated weapons, of course we must protect Britain’s industrial base. But when it comes to non-military type equipment, I am clear that my responsibility is to get the best deal for the UK taxpayer and plough the savings back into the front line.
In this case, the choice we were faced with was to buy South Korean and save hundreds of millions of pounds for the taxpayer, or let the work to an Italian shipyard.”
Feb 22/12: Britain’s Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, announces that South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME) is the Government’s preferred bidder for a deal to build 4 new double-hulled oilers, using BMT’s Aegir family design. The 37,000t ships will be just 200.9m long, and 28.6m wide, with a draught of 10m. Onboard tanks will handle Diesel Oil, Aviation Fuel and Fresh Water, with Lube oil stored in drums, and stowage for up to 8 ISO 20′ containers. A set of 3 abeam Replenishment And Supply stations will be coupled with a hangar and flight deck for a medium helicopter, allowing simultaneous fuel and supplies transfers. The ships will be designed to add a stern fuel delivery reel in future, but won’t be built with one.
The Daewoo contract is GBP 452 million (about $711 million), but the overall buy will be around GBP 602 million (about $950 million). That adds around GBP 60 million to British firms for “customisation, trials and specialist engineering support”; and GBP 90 million to the UK’s BMT Defence Services for “key equipment, systems, design and support services.” The UK MoD explains that:
“A number of British companies took part in the competition, but none submitted a final bid for the build contract. In light of this, the best option for Defence, and value for money for taxpayers, is for the tankers to be constructed in South Korea by DSME.”
South Korea’s industrial policy makes shipbuilding a priority, and it has been successful. ROK shipbuilders are currently global leaders in the civil sector, with extremely advanced shipyards. This has translated into a very good record with new ROK Navy vessels as well. UK MoD | BMT Defence.
* UK MoD – MARS Tankers
* Beedall Navy Matters – Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS). Note: current only to 2008.