Tamar on the Thames – the Royal Navy’s newest warship on show in London

The 4th Batch II River-class OPV, HMS Tamar spent the last week in the high profile berth alongside HMS Belfast in London. We visited the ship to hear about her progress.

Fast mover

HMS Tamar sailed from BAE Systems yard in Glasgow on 27 March, as the yard was going into lockdown the decision was made to go to sea ahead of schedule. Assurance checks that might typically take four weeks were conducted concurrently in a single week and some non-essential work was left to be completed by the contractor at a later date.

HMS Tamar’s crew remained in a COVID-secure ‘bubble’, putting in extended working hours and spending 13 out of 17 weeks at sea. The ship has achieved what is believed to be the fastest generation of a warship in peacetime. Tamar completed, trials work up before conducting a flag-hoisting ceremony on the river Tamar on 4 June 2020. (A formal commissioning ceremony will be held with friends, family and affiliates at a later date as restrictions allow.) She passed Fleet Operational Sea Training and was declared ready for operations in August.

The average age of the ship’s officers is younger than a typical wardroom and is something of a ‘millennial ship’ which has developed a very proactive and independent approach to problem-solving. The OPVs normally operate a rotating 3-watch crewing model but for now, Tamar has fixed manning which helps establish the ethos and personality which can last the lifetime of a ship. Active on social media, the distinctive lions on her side, and the visit to London have helped raised the ship’s public profile.

  • HMS Tamar is instantly recognisable by the distinctive ‘red lion rampant’ artwork applied to her sides which is derived from her ships crest, representing her affiliation to Devon and Cornwall. Any takers for adding a triple barrelled 6-inch gun turret… 😉

  • The 30mm Automated Small Calibre Gun – note the barrel kept well-greased for protection in the marine environment.

  • The spacious bridge is predominantly fitted with commercial off-the-shelf navigation and ship control equipment.

  • The large engine room – home to two 7,350kw high-speed MAN 16V 28/33D diesels. Simple and reliable, they provide direct drive through small gearboxes to controllable-pitch propellors. The Batch II OPVs are fast, officially capable of 24 knots but in practice, it may be a bit higher. “Pusher” and “Shover” were selected by competition amongst Devon and Cornwall Primary school children to name the engines.

  • The Machinery Control Room is not normally manned. Sensors all over the ship can alert the MEs if there are technical problems via a pager system. This space is also the HQ1 damage control base where much of the ship can be closed up remotely and monitored using the extensive CCTV network.

  • The Mechanical Engineers have a small, but well-equipped workshop aft of the engine room.

  • Looking down the port waist – one of the two standard Pacific 24 RIB used as the ships sea boats with the autonomous Pacific 950 RIB demonstrator astern.

  • While in alongside for this high profile visit to central London, the ship acted as a showcase and ambassador for the RN, hosting dignitaries, officials, ministers, affiliates, senior officers and overseas guests. The flight deck was used as an exhibition space for a variety of boats and autonomous systems and the temporary shelter was used to host receptions and a press conference.

HMS Tamar is the newest and also the ‘greenest’ surface ship in the RN as the first vessel to conform to new MARPOL emissions regulations. Her diesel exhausts are fitted with catalytic converters which reduce nitrogen-based emissions by up to 95%. All subsequent warships, including HMS Spey, the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates will be designed to meet this new standard.

While in London, the ship remains subject to strict COVID protection procedures. Visitors must practise social distancing on the upper deck and wear masks below decks. A cleaning team frequently disinfects communal areas and the crew are subject to regular testing and must isolate if exhibiting any symptoms.


More details about the Batch II OPVs and photos taken on board HMS Medway can be found in the previous article here.

Embracing innovation

There has been much comment about the light armament of the OPVs in relation to their size and cost. The ships have the capacity for additional conventional weapons, but a more likely and sensible scenario is the use of off-board systems. The first Type 26 and Type 31 frigates with their flexible mission bay will not be operational until 2027 but in the meantime, the new OPVs could potentially step up to offer some of that capability with embarked boats and containerised autonomous systems.

The OPVs lack a conventional hangar but there is space on each waist for TEU containers and a large flight deck. On display in London, HMS Tamar demonstrated how they might load a selection of Royal Marine assault craft which could be employed in the littoral strike role. Below the flight deck is accommodation designed for an embarked military force of 50 personnel and more could be carried in austere conditions.

This is in line with the development of the Royal Marine’s Future Commando Force model which sees troops increasingly forward-deployed on warships in smaller teams. These units would be networked and rely much more on technology, new weapons and autonomous systems as force multipliers. The ship’s company of HMS Tamar is excited to be involved with new innovation and some of these technology demonstrators were on show to visitors while the ship was in the capital.

The current generation of autonomous systems being trialled by the RN excels at reconnaissance and intelligence gathering but increasingly they will also become weapon delivery platforms. This has important implications for warships with a light baseline equipment fit such as the OPVs or Type 31s.

The RN is making determined strides to accelerate the adoption of new technologies with programmes such as Project Nelson, NavyX, MarWorks and the Percy Hobart Fellowship. The goal is to use the model of civilian start-up enterprises to rapidly bring emerging new technologies to the front line.

  • The 16-tonne-crane may seem like a relatively insignificant piece of equipment but it is an important enabler. The ship can self-load or unload, either at sea or alongside, a wide variety of boats, stores or containers. For demonstration purposes, Tamar was carrying an autonomous RIB, a Royal Marine ORC and Rigid Raider craft with space to spare for more.

  • The BAE Systems Pacific 950 Autonomous RIB demonstrator. The RIB can be deployed from the mother ship for up to 10 days. At cruising speed it can cover up to 300 nautical miles. It can achieve speeds of up to 45 knots in pursuit mode whilst either being remote controlled or acting semi-autonomously. The RIB carries an MSI-DS Seahawk Multi Weapon Station (MWS), mounting a 12.7mm gun which is under human control at all times.

  • The 6.5-metre MK III Beach Raider has a top speed of 38 knots light and 33 knots laden. It can carry a payload of 8 troops, 2 crew and 680 kg of equipment.

  • The Royal Marines Offshore Raiding Craft (ORC) – this variant is capable of making up to 32 knots carrying 12 Marines and their equipment.

  • This Malloy Aeronautics T-150 UAV which can deliver a payload of up to 68kg out to a range of 70km. This offers the potential to resupply troops ashore or deploy sensors away from the ship. In this example, the payload is a Hydroid Remus 100 UUV which can be used for mine countermeasures, hydrography and general surveillance. A larger version, potentially capable of delivering an anti-submarine torpedo is under development.

  • The Anduril Ghost 4 is a rotary-wing surveillance UAV with powerful AI target recognition capabilities. It is man-portable, combines long endurance and a near-silent acoustic signature. Equipped with this, Royal Marines were able to defeat a much larger USMC force during exercise.

  • The Anduril Anvil (propellors removed) is a counter-UAV System which navigates autonomously to intercept potential drone threats. Once authorised, it rams the enemy UAV vertically from below without the need to use explosive.

  • Banshee Ratler GAL-ST

    The Banshee is an aerial target UAV and can be combined with the Houbara/QinetiQ Rattler Ground / Air Launched – Supersonic Target (GAL-ST) to provide realistic training and trials against supersonic and ballistic missile threats.

  • UVision Hero 120 Loitering-Munition is a man-portable system designed to strike difficult targets such as vehicles, tanks, concrete fortifications and personnel in populated urban areas with minimal collateral damage. It has an endurance of over an hour and a range of 40 km with a data link back to the operator it can be re-tasked or mission-aborted and recovered by parachute.

After leaving London, HMS Tamar will sail for Falmouth where she will undergo a 7-week maintenance period and minor snagging work will be completed by the contractors. Beyond that, her programme is undecided, although as part of the new Overseas Patrol Ship Squadron, she is likely to be semi-permanently, forward-deployed away from the UK in the near future.

You can follow the ship’s progress on Twitter @hms_tamar.