LONDON — Britain has taken delivery of the first of two undersea surveillance ships tasked with helping protect vital cables and pipelines from sabotage, the Ministry of Defence has announced.
The 6,000-ton ship will become operational starting this summer after the vessel, previously an oil rig support ship, has undergone a series of minor military modifications at the Cammell Laird yard at Birkenhead in northwest England.
The multi-role ocean surveillance ship will be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, the Royal Navy’s logistics arm.
Formerly known as the Topaz Tangaroa the four-year-old vessel will act as a “mothership,” operating remote and autonomous systems for underwater surveillance and seabed warfare.
Previously, the vessel, yet to be renamed by the RFA, has undertaken work on oil rigs, supporting construction, maintenance and inspection work as well as autonomous submarine operations.
Delivery of the ship is several months ahead of the original handover date after the MoD accelerated the project in response to growing threats to key underwater infrastructure.
NATO officials have blamed a series of explosions rupturing the defunct Nord Stream gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September on sabotage, though a perpetrator has yet to be named.
The latest addition to the RFA fleet is equipped with a helipad, crane and a large working deck. The vessel features a “moon pool” – a large access point in the underside of the hull through which submersible capabilities can be launched.
The vessel will be crewed by around two dozen RFA sailors, alongside around 60 Royal Navy specialists operating the undersea surveillance systems and other survey and warfare systems.
Exactly what surveillance capabilities the Royal Navy will be operating from the ship is not yet clear.
It is known, though, that the British are planning to spend around £20 million, or $25 million, on a remotely operated deep-water salvage vessel that could be operated from the new ship.
Plans for a second ship in the undersea protection fleet also are in the making, with new concept design work already underway.
The original MoD plan, outlined in the 2021 integrated defence review, had been to acquire just one ocean surveillance vessel.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.