Final cure for Type 45 destroyer propulsion problems announced

In a modest ceremony held on board HMS Diamond in Portsmouth today, BAE Systems, BMT Defence Services and Cammell Laird signed a contract with the MoD to deliver the Type 45 Power Improvement Project (PIP). Significant propulsion problems have hampered the operation of the six destroyers since their construction and it is encouraging that a permanent cure has now been agreed upon.

The RN has paid a high price for pioneering Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) in a major warship. The principles are sound but the selection by government, against the advice of the builder BAE Systems, of an unproven Gas Turbine design has left a painful legacy. Problems with the intercooler-recuperator fitted to the Type 45’s WR-21 gas turbine engines have caused complete propulsion failures. (We covered the complex story of these issues in detail in one of our most widely read articles back in 2016.)

Some media coverage has given the impression that all the Type 45s have been permanently stuck in port for years, but this is far from the truth. Sailing with some workarounds and operating restrictions, developed under the Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP), has allowed them to successfully deploy, including to the warm waters of the Arabian Gulf.

On board HMS Diamond, representatives from the RN, DE&S sign the Type 45 Power Improvement Project charter alongside representatives from BAE Systems, BMT and Cammell Laird. (Photo: BAE Systems)

It would be too difficult to replace the Gas Turbines so instead, the PIP plan is that the two existing diesel-generator sets will be replaced by 3 more powerful sets. The Type 45 will then change its standard operating procedure to cruise on its diesels and only use the GTs for higher speeds.

£280M of funding for the PIP was set aside in the 2015 SDSR. The competition for the contract was split into two parts, comprising procurement, design and integration of the solution, and the physical installation and replacement of equipment onboard the Type 45 vessels. The alliance of BAES, BMT and CL won both parts of the contract, with work set to begin immediately.

The existing diesel generators could be replaced using access paths designed into the ship without cutting the hull open. Seen here in 2015, a replacement Wärtsilä 12V200 diesel generator set is prepared to be lowered into place aboard HMS Diamond. (Photo: BAE Systems)

The cutting open of the hulls to remove the old generator sets and inserting the new plant will be done at Cammell Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead sustaining more than 100 jobs. CL have large dry docks and years of ship repair and conversion experience appropriate to this kind of work. BAE Systems already has the maintenance contract for the Type 45s in Portsmouth and has the technical experience needed to and support them re-entering the fleet after the conversion.

At this time there is no definite indication which ship will be first to be taken in hand for the PIP in 2019. HMS Daring is currently laid up as a “harbour training ship” in Portsmouth and is a likely candidate. HMS Dauntless has already begun a major refit, HMS Defender has just completed refit and the other 3 ships are active. The first conversion should be completed in 2021, 12 years after the first Type 45, HMS Daring was commissioned in 2009.

As the original shipbuilder, BAE Systems was always in pole position to win this contract. The announcement will be a blow to Babcock who had bid, needing continuity of work for Rosyth and Devonport. It is interesting to note a deepening alliance between Camell Laird and BAE Systems who are also competing for the Type 31e project.