Royal Navy in hot water as engines of Britain’s flagship £1bn destroyers break down in middle of sea


06:00, 7 Jun 2016 

THE Royal Navy’s fleet of Type 45 destroyers are breaking down because their engines cannot cope with the Persian Gulf’s warm waters.

Rolls-Royce are blaming extremes of temperature in the Middle East for the repeated power outages that have left Britain’s best fighting ships without propulsion or weapons systems.

Six Clyde-built Type 45 destroyers need work expected to cost tens of millions of pounds after a string of power failures.

If it is not done, the vessels could be left as sitting ducks in battle if the UK is in a major conflict at sea again.

A Whitehall source said: “We can’t have warships that cannot operate if the water is warmer than it is in Portsmouth harbour.

“These ships have to have a global reach and it looks as if the engineering has compromised them.”

The cost of refits over several years is believed to be one of the factors behind the delay in beginning orders for the Type 26 frigates planned for BAE Systems’ yards on the Clyde.

Representatives of the Unite union, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce are due in front of the Commons defence committee today to answer questions on the Type 26 and Type 45 procurement.

The MPs are likely to hear for the first time that the decision to overhaul the £1billion-a-piece Type 45s is due to a flaw which leaves Rolls-Royce’s WR-21 gas turbines unable to operate in extreme temperatures.

Shipyard unions have warned that the Type 26 contract is being stretched out over twice the original time frame, putting jobs on the Clyde in jeopardy and leading to a possible reduction in the number of ships ordered from 13 to eight.

Rolls-Royce are expected to tell the Commons hearing that “high air and sea and water temperatures” combined with poor fuel quality have led to conditions in which the engines are running beyond their design tolerances.

The admission comes after years of trying to hush up the engine ­failures on the Type 45 by dismissing them as teething troubles.

The first indication of problems came in 2010 when HMS Daring lost all power in mid-Atlantic and had to be repaired in Canada.

The ship needed repairs in Bahrain in 2012 while in the Gulf. Reports said it suffered propulsion problems while on patrol off the coast of Kuwait.

HMS Defender has just returned from operations in the Gulf, supporting US carrier strikes against Isis in Iraq and Syria.

The MoD solution is to fit each Type 45 ship with two back-up diesel generators that could be used if the main propulsion unit breaks down.

A staggered refit of the ships is not due to begin until 2019 and will put added pressure on defence budgets.

MPs will demand answers about who picks up the bill for the refits and how that impacts on funding for the Type 26 order.

SNP MP Douglas Chapman called for assurances about the future of shipbuilding in Scotland.

He said: “The workforce and the communities that depend on a continuous order book to keep vital skills have to be heard and the MoD have to live up to their promises.”

A Rolls-Royce spokesman said: “We will have a representative at the committee meeting tomorrow who will give a briefing to MPs then.”



Putting the Type 45 propulsion problems in perspective


The problem

The Type 45 uses a pioneering system called Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP). There are many advantages associated with IEP, fuel efficiency, flexibility in locating the engines and a supposedly reduced maintenance and manning requirement. In basic terms, two WR-21 gas turbines (GTs) and two Wartsila 2MW diesel generators provide AC power for the motors that propel the ship as well as the power for the ships systems – weapons, sensors lighting etc.

WR21 gas turbines  @naval-technology.com

The WR-21 GTs were designed in an international partnership with Rolls Royce and Northrop Grumman Marine Systems. The turbines are of a sound design but have an intercooler-recuperator that recovers heat from the exhaust and recycles it into the engine, making it more fuel-efficient and reducing the ship’s thermal signature. Unfortunately the intercooler unit has a major design flaw and causes the GTs to fail occasionally. When this happens, the electrical load on the diesel generators can become too great and they ‘trip out’, leaving the ship with no source of power or propulsion.

© Chris Jarvis 

The MoD has not revealed how frequently these blackouts have occurred but the first 2 ships, HMS Daring and HMS Dauntless seem to have suffered the most. The first indication of problems was as far back as 2010 when it was admitted HMS Daring lost all power in mid-Atlantic and had to be repaired in Canada. Although the Type 45s have been active, some significant commitments have been missed. An indication that all is not well could be seen by the number of Type 45s alongside in Portsmouth at any given time during the last few years. Historically the RN has never been a fleet of ‘harbour queens’ and today’s over-worked navy can ill-afford unreliable ships. HMS Daring entered service in 2009, it has taken more than 6 years to agree to deal with the problem and it will probably be well after 2020 before the work is completed. It is obviously dangerous from a seamanship and navigational point of view to suddenly lose propulsion at any time. It is even more serious when operating in a high threat environment as the ship would be a sitting duck.

The otherwise highly successful Type 45

Great credit must go to the RN’s long-suffering mechanical engineers who appear to have always been able to restore power fairly quickly. The MoD states that “A Type 45 has never been forced to return to port because of a lack of power or propulsion.” As in so many other cases, the RN has managed to work around the problem to some extent and find fixes that reduce the number of electrical failures. Under normal circumstances the Type 45 propulsion system provides exceptionally good acceleration, smooth, quiet operation and fuel efficiency almost double that of their Type 42 predecessors. When the Type 23 Frigates first entered service they lacked a computerised command system, a similarly serious flaw in a new warship. There was determination that the Type 45 would have the best command system and expectations have even been exceeded. The Type 45 has become the ‘gold standard’ in air defence and air traffic management, it has become the “goalkeeper of choice” for US aircraft carriers who recognise it has the edge, even over their renowned AEGIS system.

Despite the issues, the Type 45 is one of the best air defence ships in the world, they have travelled thousands of miles already and proven themselves in diverse roles. The propulsion problems will be fixed and the platform has the capacity for major future upgrades.

A radical cure

A feasibility study into upgrading the generators was completed by BAES and the MoD in March 2015. The funding for the “Type 45 machinery improvement package” was agreed in the November 2015 SDSR and at least the problem has finally been recognised and funds are in place. Each vessel will have to be dry-docked, large openings cut in the hull and one or possibly two new diesel generator sets slid into place.

Type 45 destroyer propulsion arrangementType 45 destroyer propulsion general arrangement. Removing and replacing the diesel generator sets would appear to present significant work. Image: Rolls Royce.

Replacement of the WR-21 GTs is not a practical option. Instead additional or more powerful diesel generators will provide long-term redundancy and assurance that electrical supplies can be maintained in the event of GT failure. The good news is that the large Type 45 design has the space and reserve buoyancy to cope with larger or additional diesels. The rectification work on the six ships will be done one by one as part of the normal major refit cycle. This will extend the length of the refits but should not have an especially dramatic effect on frontline availability.

Full article: HERE

Related post:

The £6bn gamble on risky engines for navy’s fleet of destroyers backfired admits defence chief

MP reveals Royal Navy faces ‘unbelievable’ muti-million pound bill to repair destroyers

Type 45 Destroyer: Detailsunited_kingdom_flag


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