Here’s your new ships Admiral. Just don’t take them out to sea, right?

Invalidates the guarantee that does, all that salt water:

Taxpayers will have to foot the bill to refit warships that break down in the Persian Gulf when the water becomes too warm, because they are ‘out of warranty’.
The Ministry of Defence said the ‘arduous’ conditions that made the £1billion Type 45 Destroyers ‘degrade catastrophically’ were not covered by the guarantee.
Engines on the six warships fail because the intercooler units, which reduce heat from the exhaust, slow down in warm waters, leaving the engine unable to generate enough power.

The, err, Persian Gulf is one of the more likely places that the Royal Navy will have to work in, no? We’ve been working there for what, century and a half? No, more, given India and Suez.

So some idiot signed off on a design that doesn’t work there?

Sheesh….

46 thoughts on “Here’s your new ships Admiral. Just don’t take them out to sea, right?”

  1. Yeah, that’s a fuckup. Basis of design should include max and min ambient temperatures the engines are supposed to work in, with another section saying what electrical output the engines are supposed to deliver. I know that these things do get affected by tropical heat, and countering the effects costs more: I expect somebody signed off on the cheap option thinking they were being clever. He probably got promoted. He would in the oil business…

  2. In my seagoing days as an engineer we did find it difficult to keep things cool if the ship had generally been designed to work in cooler climates. For ships heading down the West Coast of Africa, you might expect sea water temperatures to be in the high 20’s (28/29) maybe. If as happened to me you were on one of these vessels that for some reason suddenly ended up trading world wide, a temperature of 31°C in the Malacca Straits even that 2° rise in temperature could cause problems. You would have to slow the engines down a couple of % to keep the temperatures within limits. However, if you were on a vessel that was normally designed to run in these conditions there was never an issue. The highest sea temperature I can remember recording in a main engine log sheet was 33°C, that was out in the Far East and the thermometer wouldn’t have been calibrated. The fact these vessels seem to have been deliberately designed to slow down in hotter temperatures is appalling. God only knows the navy has been in all of these waters for hundreds of years. Sounds like cost cutting to me, by making the heat exchangers smaller than they should have been. Or they quite simply did not have the room to fit in a suitable size of heat exchanger, as the temperature between the cooling water and the fluid being cooled gets closer the heat exchangers start to get much larger.

  3. Typical Ministry of Crap Design effort sponsored by BAE Systems. Nothing unusual to see here. Move quickly along, folks, it might be infectious.

    For previous versions of this problem, albeit in the land rather than maritime environment, google “Challenger 2” and “engine filters”.

    It is very hard to learn lessons effectively when the senior military people on your procurement teams roulement every 24 to 36 months (a problem also noted, in a more frequent cycle, comparing the effectiveness of US and UK mid- to senior officers in Basra and Helmand.)

  4. Can’t speak to the marine engineering, but ten years ago issues about weapon systems in Persian Gulf conditions were bounced by MoD Main as “it’s not a policy-compliant theatre of operations so you can’t spend money on it”. A fair number of these issues were identified, fed upwards, and ignored: folk at the working level then did what they could to put fixes or workarounds in place anyway since “policy” (driven by the Treasury, and basically a modern version of the Ten Year Rule) was so obviously at variance with reality. Some were successful, some less so (guess which you hear about?)

    But this is what happens when you put PPE graduates in charge, and let them prioritise pleasing the boss (at that point Gordon Brown) over doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.

    We’ve seen the same issue with the carriers and now with Type 26: praise and promotion within the SCS come from deferring expenditure in this year, even if it balloons the cost downstream, because everyone will have moved on by then. (Both also suffer from the amateur’s idiocy that cost is directly proportional to displacement yet capability is not – “if we make it half the size surely it’ll be just as good but half the price?” Years and billions wasted by that stupidity)

  5. Ah yes… the RN has more Admirals than floating assets … I hear the Army has more horses than tanks – what about the RAF?

    This does seem quite a miserable episode – one must assume that the big wigs who signed off the design thought the RN wouldn’t be going anywhere warm…

    Sadly the prospect of an Admiral Byng moment isn’t presently a possibility.

  6. SE,

    No dispute there – what would happen if we appointed someone to a project and told them they were there until it delivered, which – if the estimates were correct – would be nicely in their promotion window, and the NAO’s review of the project would be the main evidence for their promotion board?

    And that evidence from that project would continue to feature in their OJARs, so that “seems to work, no problems experienced, no war so not fully tested” was an A-grade while “What chimp signed this off as suitable for service?” was… a lesser grade?

    Responsibility and accountability are strange concepts at those grades (unlike at the coalface) but it would be nice to see: it would address some of those cases where we’ve spent millions to save thousands, then spent billions to revert anyway. (Stumpy Type 42s, anyone? Yet nobody senior ever learns)

  7. “Sadly the prospect of an Admiral Byng moment isn’t presently a possibility.”

    Poor old Admiral Byng paid the price of others parsimony. He probably saved the lives of hundreds of his men.

  8. Probably specified by the same “geniuses” that included inflammable electrical wiring in the Type 42 Destroyer.

  9. It’s stories like this that make me think we might be better off scrapping the Navy altogether and just going back to being a bunch of fucking pirates. We’d waste a damn sight less time and money for a start.

  10. “it’s not a policy-compliant theatre of operations”

    If only the French had thought of declaring the border with Germany as a non policy-compliant theatre of operations, instead of building the Maginot Line, it would have been much cheaper and just as effective.

  11. > It’s stories like this that make me think we might be better off scrapping the Navy altogether and just going back to being a bunch of fucking pirates.

    A mercenary navy? Sounds good to me. Mind you we’re already doing that in a way: we’re paying the French to use their aircraft carriers.

  12. what would happen if we appointed someone to a project and told them they were there until it delivered, which – if the estimates were correct – would be nicely in their promotion window, and the NAO’s review of the project would be the main evidence for their promotion board?

    Yes. At the moment, you seem to have one person setting up a project (which isn’t difficult to appear to do well), their successor then ripping up a significant part of the previous work (not difficult to get BAE or one of the other suspects to justify) and finally, their successor delivering a 50% project to a 200% budget (but what else could I do with the mess I was handed.)

    Promotions all around and even a gong or two.

  13. djc,

    We’d need to renounce the 1856 Treaty of Paris to do that, which would have some serious implications elsewhere.

    There might have been a reason privateers went out of fashion? Niccolo Machiavelli had a few words on the subject…

  14. The Meissen Bison

    Didn’t I read recently in a thread somewhere that government should direct innovation and pick the winners…

    …presumably the TSR2 and Delorean are on the core syllabus for training civil servants in charge of procurement.

  15. It’s a headscratcher until you remember that the people doing this stuff are fucking idiots. Then it all makes sense. I still don’t think you can beat buying .50 cal ammo from Pakistan which are very slightly too small in diameter and end up jamming the gun every third time you pull the trigger, and leave people having to beg ammunition from passing Dutchmen. Still every round was about 50p cheaper, and if you can only fire them in ones and twos the savings are immense!

  16. I have actually worked on the heap of junk and don’t talk me about the carriers fuck BAE Systems do a Standard Oil on it the sooner the better.

  17. Then it all makes sense. I still don’t think you can beat buying .50 cal ammo from Pakistan which are very slightly too small in diameter and end up jamming the gun every third time you pull the trigger, and leave people having to beg ammunition from passing Dutchmen.

    I understand that the parliamentary decision to allow the British armed forces to purchase American-made .50 cal ammo was passed literally on the eve of the invasion of the Iraq War. But I heard the ammo that kept jamming was Egyptian. I also heard the M2 .50 cal Brownings had been taken off WWII Spitfires…not that this matters, the M2 is over 100 years old and is still a magnificent weapon.

  18. I’m not convinced that there’s much of a case for most surface ships anyway. Build subs, but don’t bash them into oil tankers!

  19. Back when I was in the 6th form I showed an interest in a career in the Royal Navy. They took a bunch of us to Portsmouth for a couple of days during which they showed us around a frigate. During the tour somebody pointed out that the superstructure appeared to be made of something slightly more robust than cardboard. A little later the young officer showing us around pointed out the chilled water network on which pretty much the entire ship is dependent. Somebody then asked why it was positioned just behind the superstructure and vulnerable to absolutely everything, including small-arms fire. The young officer said something along the lines of “Yes, yes, that is a bit of a design flaw, that.” He then told us the French design is better whereby the put the chilled water network in the hull: if the hull is breached, your chilled water network is kind of redundant anyway. At this point I piped up and asked why the Royal Navy doesn’t adopt the superior French design. The young officer snorted and said in an ultra-posho braying voice “Well, we wouldn’t want to copy the French, eh what?” and started laughing. I didn’t find it funny, and said (in my youthful naivety) that I thought it was pretty worrying that the Royal Navy was putting to sea in vessels with such poor design that an AK-47 could cripple it, and that I’m not sure I would want to serve on one. The young officer looked at me and gave me a dark warning: “In my experience,” he said “anyone in any kind of military selection process who shows concern for his own safety will almost certainly fail.”

    He needn’t have worried: I’d seen enough, and gave the Navy a wide berth after that.

  20. If you’d gone in as an engineer they wouldn’t have let you up on deck anyway

    No, it looked as though I’d be behind the cardboard trying to patch up the chilled water piping…

  21. It’s a headscratcher until you remember that the people doing this stuff are fucking idiots.

    Unfortunately, they aren’t. Some of them may be but many of them are very clever indeed. Much more clever, in most cases, than the military people put in (well out of their comfort zones) to ensure that c/s or contractors don’t do anything to screw up potential military effect (without appropriate permissions, of course.)
    However, they are differentially incentivised, as Jason notes above. It’s a very different thing and, as the politicians are both nominally and actually, in the UK, the masters* of the military, and both the c/s and the contractors have years of experience in influencing the politicians, well …

    * Yes, I know, oath to the Crown (except for the Navy, of course.) But, exempting a drastic and unfeasible split between the Crown and Her Majesty’s Government, the British military will try to do what the politicians tell us they want us to do. Even if that is to save money at the expense of military capability (running around yelling “BANG” as one of the more ridiculous examples, or the ban on Reservist training from the McRuin years.)

  22. I thought it was pretty worrying that the Royal Navy was putting to sea in vessels with such poor design that an AK-47 could cripple it,

    Because an AK-47 isn’t a rational weapon in the mid-Atlantic?

  23. “What about the RAF?”

    Depends which branch you’re talking about. Some years ago I paid a visit to the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Coningsby. During the hangar tour we were proudly told that they have the highest serviceability rate of the entire RAF fleet – (over 90% from memory). And to put that into perspective, we are talking about maintaining and operating 70 year old piston engined aircraft on a financial shoestring, compared to the £millions thrown at fast jets. On an earlier visit to another RAF base, one of the techs told us (off the record) that they were lucky to have half the Tornado’s flying at any one time…

  24. Because an AK-47 isn’t a rational weapon in the mid-Atlantic?

    Well…it was exposed against everything *including* small arms fire. And I guess they never thought they’d be going up against pirates off Somalia.

  25. And I guess they never thought they’d be going up against pirates off Somalia.

    Even if they had guessed (and, assuming something about your age, we had had, I and I had served on, the Armilla Patrol and seen the attacks from Republican Guard Boghammers), we (the RN) wouldn’t have been allowed to add additional requirements. We were still building anti-submarine frigates and air-defence destroyers for the North Atlantic operating against the Soviets.
    And the detailed designs weren’t done by the RN, but by the contractors (i.e. BAE or, then, Vospers).
    My grey navy time is long, long ago and I don’t recognise quite the level of stupidity you seem to, but all sorts of important (and even some quite dangerous, like high-pressure hydraulic lines) services were exposed on the upper decks. Because you had things on the upper decks that required those services to function.

  26. Tim N,

    A friend is a partner in the consultancy that does survivability analysis for the RN, and looks in a lot of detail at this; another’s the in-house expert who checks and approves their work. There’s a lot of modelling, testing, and analysis of events done to get an idea of “how to keep the ship floating, moving, and fighting despite the enemy’s best efforts”.

    One reason the ship’s superstructure is made out of cornflakes packets instead of armour plate – and I’m paraphrasing this because Dougie explained it in the bar on the Saturday night of a busy training weekend – is that the armour needed to stop any significant threat, say a .50″ DShK or NSV bullet, actually makes things worse when hit by bigger rounds like a 23mm (popular as the ZU-23 twin) or an RPG or similar: it deforms more (so rips more wiring and pipework), throws more spall and frag off the back, and is harder to force back into place to patch up. Meanwhile, an AK fired from 400m is surprisingly harmless to machinery: it might get through the plating but it’ll only scar the pipework, certainly not poke holes in it. (If you’re on the upper deck firing it point-blank into the bulkhead, things are different, but by then you’ve got different problems anyway)

    At that point it got technically interesting about bullet yaw and deformation, the effect of what used to be called “decapping plate” and is now just the outer bulkhead if the enemy cheated and used AP ammunition, and the sort of general weapons geekery you get when interested engineers are about to get kicked out of the Mess at closing time.

    Since we can’t keep bullets out, the next step is to limit the damage they can do, and to avoid single points of failure – a lesson learned, then forgotten, then retaught by HMS Sheffield where the Exocet hit cut and disabled the high-pressure salt water main and there was no redundancy to isolate the damage and repressurise. (Another case of saving a few thousand pounds today at the cost of a ship and twenty-odd lives a decade later…)

    Back when “chasing pirates” was news, and the Fighting Sausage slotted a few who were unwise enough to respond to her challenge with gunfire instead of hastily ditching their boarding ladders and saying “Pirates? Us? No, just fishermen, oppressed by the pirates, can we claim asylum please?”, a fair bit of work was done on the threat posed by AKs and RPGs to the ships tasked to the job – if you really knew the ship and where to aim, in theory you could do some damage (but not enough to stop them turning you into a fine red mist and one smoking flip-flop regardless). In practice, even Vasily Zaitsev couldn’t make the shots required from an open skiff on a calm day off Poole (yes, we did do some accuracy trials).

  27. “Then it all makes sense. I still don’t think you can beat buying .50 cal ammo from Pakistan which are very slightly too small in diameter and end up jamming the gun every third time you pull the trigger, and leave people having to beg ammunition from passing Dutchmen.”

    I don’t work in the military, but this is why I hate “purchasing departments” by any name. Give the people on the ground some money and some choice, whether it’s guns, laptops or hotel rooms.

    Know why software developers are always walking around with Macs or Thinkpads? Because that shit works, and some corporate bought HP is fucking garbage with shitty hard drives, bad drivers and HP crapware that gets in the way.

  28. We were still building anti-submarine frigates and air-defence destroyers for the North Atlantic operating against the Soviets.

    Yeah, this was definitely a Cold War era vessel.

    My grey navy time is long, long ago and I don’t recognise quite the level of stupidity you seem to, but all sorts of important (and even some quite dangerous, like high-pressure hydraulic lines) services were exposed on the upper decks. Because you had things on the upper decks that required those services to function.

    Branches, yes. Ring main? No. My main point was why not put the ring main in the hull – like the French supposedly did – anyway?

  29. Meanwhile, an AK fired from 400m is surprisingly harmless to machinery: it might get through the plating but it’ll only scar the pipework, certainly not poke holes in it.

    That’s true. Interesting comment BTW, as usual.

  30. Interesting comment BTW, as usual.

    Interesting thread all round. I love it here when experts give us the benefit of their knowledge and experience.

  31. “Engines on the six warships fail because the intercooler units, which reduce heat from the exhaust, slow down in warm waters, leaving the engine unable to generate enough power. ”

    Oh dear.. dailymail writing technical articles again. Oh how we laughed in the office when we read this statement.

  32. Branches, yes. Ring main? No.

    You had a ring main for each deck in some cases. Which were isolatable from each other and some had ancillary / emergency power units.
    And to dredge up Jason’s point, lowering a submersible pump in to the sea to re-pressurise an isolated fire main was a standard workup / FOST evolution. Of course, powering the pump if you’d lost your 3-phase was an issue …

  33. Incentives, innit?

    Long since, in The War, British tank crews did their own minor maintenance; American tank crews handed it all over to mechanics.

    You can guess which tanks broke down in action more often.

  34. @Jason

    ‘Since we can’t keep bullets out, the next step is to limit the damage they can do, and to avoid single points of failure – a lesson learned, then forgotten, then retaught by HMS Sheffield where the Exocet hit cut and disabled the high-pressure salt water main and there was no redundancy to isolate the damage and repressurise. (Another case of saving a few thousand pounds today at the cost of a ship and twenty-odd lives a decade later…)’

    Just out of interest, would the lives on the Sheffield have been saved with that back up system? I thought (though am probably wrong) that they all died in the initial strike?

  35. Revisited Northcote Parkinson’s week a few weeks ago. At the time of writing he obviously thought it inconceivable that the ministry might outgrow the navy.
    Anyone know the date of the cross over?

  36. @Tim

    ‘I understand that the parliamentary decision to allow the British armed forces to purchase American-made .50 cal ammo was passed literally on the eve of the invasion of the Iraq War. But I heard the ammo that kept jamming was Egyptian.’

    It was bought from various sources, inc the Czechs. I was using Pakistan because I know specifically of ammunition which was bought from Pakistan and which was very substandard. People in contacts where a decent weight of fire was very urgently needed getting off one round, two rounds, with a heavy machine gun. Taliban fifty yards away and closing. (This is not my personal experience, it’s second hand but it’s definitely true, I think even the media reported it.)

    In retrospect once they went cheap it was a mistake waiting to happen – the Paks (and the Egyptians and I would think the Czechs) all use the Dushka as well as the M2. The Dushka is nominally the same calibre as the Browning but in fact is a couple of mil smaller. It’s a ridiculous procurement decision by those armies, actually – pick one heavy machine gun and go with it, I’d have thought. The odds of them mixing up their own ammo must be high, and I’d imagine you wouldn’t even get off one shot with an M2 round in a DShK, and would probably be sitting there picking bits of gun out of your face!

    @SE – I kind of get your point but I think they are stupid, because I bet you a pound to a pinch of snuff they looked at those nominal calibres (above) and thought ‘they’ll do’. Which is stupid.

  37. Jason Lynch,

    You make the point about if I don’t spend now, it’ll look good and I will have moved on by the time it goes wrong.

    I was working as the Interim Senior Site Engineer for part of a big blue chip a couple of years ago. Everything was either already fallen apart, falling apart or going to fall apart in the near future. Almost all of it could be traced back to one man who had been the permanently employed senior engineer about 4 years previously. He still worked in the business as the risk manager. I was trying to get an increase in the budgets and his comment in a meeting was that for three years he had successfully reduced the engineering budgets and headcount. My comment, “yes and now its really beginning to show” (OEE of about 40% on some lines), didn’t go down well at all. In the end I handed my notice in without another contract to go to due to the way things were being done. You have to maintain your standards and know your limitations!

  38. mike said:
    “It’s stories like this that make me think we might be better off scrapping the Navy altogether and just going back to being a bunch of fucking pirates.”

    Letters of Marque; you authorise privateers to attack your enemies, and allow them to keep the prize money as a reward.

    It does allow effective global reach without virtually no public expense, as the privateers build, equip and man their own ships and it’s paid for by selling captured enemy ships.

    It did have a few problems of some of the privateers getting a little over-enthusiastic about the pillaging, and (as someone said) it would require us to withdraw from a few international treaties. But it’s a system that has its merits.

  39. What happened to “your standard consumer rights are not affected”

    It’s more a case of “your mileage may vary” – specifically, between “not enough” and “bugger all”.

  40. My understanding of this “environment higher temp and loss of power” is the RR turbines and coupled generators can not run at full load. RR supplied equipment to meet the specifications – no doubt extremely detailed.

    If any engineers at RR or BAE raised concerns, which I’m sure they did, they would have been told “The Gov’t/MOD Experts” spent years and £xx million researching the specifications, thus it must be OK.

    BAE and RR supplied what was requested.

    Blame lies entirely with MOD & Blair/Brown Gov’ts.

    P

  41. “just going back to being a bunch of fucking pirates”

    Seriously, can you imagine what kind of third-rate bargain basement privateers the MoD would hire? Not so much Captain Kidd as Captain You Must Be Kidding.

  42. It’s energy gradient that’s the problem here. We waste energy as heat (no machine is perfect) but if the surroundings are hot…

    It’s not an uniquely military problem. I’ve been in the Gulf where the work boat has shut down for days with no aircon or possibility of working. Skegness is so bracing because the N Sea is fucking cold, about 4 degrees once you’re a few feet under. Gulf is a warm bath all the way to 60 or 80 feet under.

    Same for the S China Sea, btw. Despite breathing heIium we could work quite happily in overalls at 200 ft. I anticipate a US frigate being immobilised and towed to a “friendly” Chinese port for “repairs” quite soon.

  43. One of my dad’s friends bought a speedboat called a “Bayliner”. I’m no expert on all things sea-going, but one day, it broke down and got stuck about half a mile from shore off Abersoch beach (the only place it ever went apart from the harbour). It was towed back into shore, put on a trailer and driven to the boatyard. The Welsh mechanic, in that thick Welsh accent you only really get right in the most north-western corner of Wales, says “Does it get damp?” To which my dad’s friend replied, “Yes, of course it gets damp, it’s a boat.” The reply? “Oooh, they don’t like the damp, these!”

    Seems it’s not just Bayliner who design boats to be kept out of the water.

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