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Defence Procurement  –  Maritime Defence and Naval Training  –  June 2006

The Kingston Class:  'Mid-Life' or Move Over for the MCDV?
Reviewing Navy Plans for the Future of the MCDVs
[Part 1]

Stephen Priestley,  Researcher,  Canadian American Strategic Review  [1]

Valérie Dufour, journalist with Le Journal de Montréal, uncovered (through an Access to Information Request) that the Navy is discarding its $100M mid-life refit plans for the twelve Kingston class MCDVs. Instead, MCDVs will be replaced by new vessels to enter service in 2020. It had been intended to retain the ‘mid-lifed’ Kingstons until 2045-2055 but, after its review, planners concluded that, in light of its low performance, the decade-old MCDV did not warrant the refit.

So, why the change of plan?  Despite its “Maritime Coastal Defence Vessel” name, the Kingston class was criticized from the outset – its low top speed and small size making the MCDV ill-suited for patrol duties.  Navy planners concluded  that these limitations have become liabilities since 9/11. But what are these new vessels under consideration and, with these new ships not due until 2020, what fills in until then?

According to the report, post-9/11, the MCDVs are overtasked and underequipped to do their job. Along with being too slow and too small, the analysis concluded that the Kingston hull is too thin to safely patrol in ice-filled waters.  Such criticisms are all sound but do the flaws lie in the design of the MCDVs or in the requirement that led to the Kingston class? It is well worth a look back at  that original MCDV requirement and its design before moving on to review suitable replacement types  –  the MCDV mid-life report mentioned OPV Offshore Patrol Vessels.

If the MCDV is a Jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none, how did this arise? The original specification began as M2242, the Naval Reserve Minecountermeasures Project (or NRMP). Armed coastal defence did not feature large (the Admirals have never been keen to see their Navy “reduced to a contabulary role”). Training  (of Regular Navy officers and  Naval Reservists) was part of the plan but the emphasis – as the name of the project suggests – was on mineclearing (or, more accurately, ‘mine hunting’). The mine countermeasures role brings up the question of MCDV hull construction.

“ ... Strong as steel.  Can’t break it up  or  break it down ... ”

Traditionally, minehunting ships have had non-ferous hulls. An example is the highly successful Italian Lerici/Gaeta series that employ a reinforced glass-fibre (RGF) hull construction  (at left). This is an advance over older plywood hulls (even a fiberglass- covered ply construction) and this Italian design sold very well (six nations, including the US and Australia, adopted the Lerici hull). By contrast, the specifications for the MCDV demanded a hull constructed entirely of mild steel (to commercial standards).

Mercantile standards were used for the MCDV primarily as a cost-cutting measure. Just as commercial-off-the-shelf parts and equipment were used wherever possible, the hull was adapted from an existing civilian design for an offshore supply vessel. That design used steel in its construction and this was the material familiar to most Canadian shipyards. Naval planners decided that, by using “standoff mine warfare technology”, the steel-hulled MCDVs would never get too close to any minefields.

Modern minehunters all  use a remotely-operated vehicle or other stand-off method of dealing with mines. But, these vessels also eschew steel hulls. ( Maritime Staff may have convinced themselves that steel hulls were acceptable for mine-hunting roles but potential export customer disagreed. [2]

Kingston Class  Hull Construction  —  Considerations,  Limitations,  and  Issues

Steel hull construction might sound like it would provide reasonable protection from ice. Not so. DND’s Technical Statement of  Requirements  –  TSORs describe perform- ance requirements – demanded that the MCDV’s hull be constructed of  “no less than 12mm of  mild steel”.  Mild steel construction helped to keep weight down (an MCDV displaces just over 900t) but the designers and planners knew that this was at the expense of ice protection.

Ironically, the MCDVs proved to be top-heavy.  Non-structural steel plate had to be removed from the bridge and  9t of  ballast added to the hull. Again, the contrast is with the Italian design which employs a  non-metallic ‘composite’ construction  for its superstructure. The result is lighter and, albeit unintentionally, multi-layered composites give a degree of radar-absorbing “stealth” to this design. This technology was familiar to Canadian yacht makers but still considered radical.

Construction methods have a minimal effect on the handling of vessels of this size. In heavy seas, MCDVs are prone to hull slamming  –  generating impact forces that can damage hull plating. The hull-slamming is, to some degree, inevitable with a short, beamy hull. The MCDVs are not alone here.  Most minehunters, including the Lerici class derivatives, have rather porky hulls. DRDC researchers came up with a hull-slam prediction system which caught the attention of the Royal Australian Navy  whose Huon class minehunters face the same problem.

A longer hull would likely reduce hull-slamming (and provide extra space aboard ).  Such a hull stretch has been suggested unofficially to make the MCDV into a better patrol ship. The problems with this concept are related to construct- ion and final assembly methods. The Kingston hulls were ‘pre-plumbed’ as modular components. The hull assembly break fell just forward of the bridge,  not ideal for a stretch.

Next we will compare the MCDV hull and armament with its RGF-hulled competion.
[1] Expanding from briefing notes  for  Valérie Dufour of  Le Journal de Montréal.
[2] As with Halifax class FFHs before it, not a single MCDV was ever sold abroad.
Next in this
In Detail Review  –  Comparing the MCDV with its Competion