New assets to boost UK seabed warfare capabilities

The research and supply ship Sir David Attenborough (Photo: British Antarctic Survey)

The UK’s Ministry of Defence recently announced that the Royal Navy (RN) is to acquire two Multi-Role Offshore Survey Ships (MROSS). These vessels will help protect the undersea communications and supply networks of the UK and allied nations.

These networks are vulnerable to operations intended either to eavesdrop upon classified signal traffic or to disrupt communications or energy supply. Russia’s special underwater missions ship Yantar, equipped with deep-diving manned submersibles, remotely operated underwater vehicles, and both fixed and towed sonar systems, has for some years been carrying out operations against western undersea networks.

The main catalyst for these proposed acquisitions for the RN, though, was the recent apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines under the Baltic Sea. These pipelines carry gas from Russia to Germany.

The first MROSS will be based on a vessel, most likely a platform supply vessel, or a diving support vessel, to be bought this year off-the-shelf, and then converted in UK for RN use. Required modifications will include a crane, and hangar for the operation of unmanned underwater vehicles, as well as a flight deck for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. Advanced deep-diving support equipment will also be required, and light self-defence armament will likely be fitted.

The second vessel will be built from scratch in UK, with construction to start next year. Analysts believe that Cammel Laird is the lead contender for this contract, with a proposal based on the design of the Antarctic research ship Sir David Attenborough (pictured).

The likely composition of the vessels’ crews is as yet uncertain. It is probable that they will include both RN, and specialist civilian personnel.

Trevor Hollingsbee

Trevor Hollingsbee was a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and Senior Superintendent with the Hong Kong Marine Police. He is Baird Maritime's resident maritime security expert and columnist.