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Fleet Tanker


This project was apparently cancelled on 11 December 2008 when the Defence Secretary, John Hutton, announced that: "We have ... reviewed all the components of the MARS fleet auxiliary programme, and have concluded that there is scope for considering alternative approaches to its procurement which is likely to involve the deferral of the fleet tanker element."

It is currently unclear what the alternative approaches will be.


Fleet Tanker Concept published in November 2007.  (Source: MOD)


A key role for the new tankers will refuelling the future aircraft carriers.  (Source: Thales)



Type Designation: Fleet Tanker (AO)

Name No Builders Laid Down Launched Completed In Service
? A? Planned [2009]     [2012]
? A?          
? A?          
? A?          
? A?          
? A?          


Displacement: ?
length 220 m overall, beam less than 32 m; draught 11 m
Speed: 17 knots maximum, 15 knots sustained
Range:  7000 nautical miles at ? knots. 
Engines: Diesel or diesel-electric propulsion; 2 shafts; bow thruster
2 Raytheon 20mm Phalanx Block 1B Mk15 CIWS (indicative);
Complement: Accommodation for up 100 crew
Aircraft: Flight deck and maintenance facilities



Project designation:  ?
Status: Entered Assessment Phase in July 2005, Main Gate expected March 2009.
In Service Date: 

The Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project is seeking to procure up to six Fleet Tankers (FTs) to be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA).


The Royal Fleet Auxiliary urgently needs to replace most of its existing tankers in order to meet an amendment to MARPOL regulations (the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 and the Protocol of 1978) that requires tankers to be double hulled.  With the exception of the new Wave-class tankers, the RFA has a single hulled tanker fleet which will be become non-compliant with MARPOL from 2010, although a waiver can be claimed for government owned ships

Six remaining Leaf and Rover class tankers provide logistic support to Royal Navy  vessels at sea, under current (early 2007) plans their decommissioning dates are as follows:  Gold Rover (2009),  Black Rover (2010), Brambleleaf (2009), Orangeleaf (2009), Oakleaf ( 2010) and Bayleaf (2010) - although these dates may be advanced. 

In November 2004, the First Sea Lord, Admiral West, confirmed that an important factor in the decision-making process for MARS was the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) pollution regulations issued in 2001, as well as the more stringent and subsequent European Commission regulations passed in 2003.  The IMO regulations imposed a timetable for phasing out single-hulled tankers by 2015, although the EC legislation advanced this to 2003 for vessels operating in European waters or under a European flag.  Vessels owned or operated by a state and used only on Government non-commercial service, such as Royal Fleet Auxiliary Oilers, are exempt from the regulations, although it continues to be MoD policy that, where practicable, it will comply with Shipping Acts and associated regulations.  It's hoped that the Military Tanker and MARS programmes will enable MoD to comply with these particular regulations.

It became clear in mid-2007 that an adaptation of a commercial off the shelf design built in EU shipyards (but almost certainly not UK yards) was likely to be adopted to meet a Fleet Tanker requirement spun off from a restructured MARS projects. On 10 December 2007 the MOD issued an "Invitation to Participate in Dialogue" to industry for up to six Feet Tankers at an expected cost of £800 million, this stating that MARS project "aims to obtain quality ships at competitive prices and reduced whole life cost by exploiting commercial best practice and with designs that can demonstrate cost benefits throughout 25 years of service life".

The new ships, in combination with additional auxiliary support ships, will be critical to the Royal Navy’s ability to conduct worldwide operations while minimising dependency of UK joint forces deployments on host nation support.



The primary role of the proposed Fleet Tanker Class is to deliver bulk fluids such as Marine Gas Oil, Aviation Kerosene, Single Battlefield Fuel, and Potable Water, to Naval Task Groups (including CVF), Naval Combatants, and other Auxiliary ships. Typically, transfer takes place by abeam replenishment via the delivering ship’s RAS(L) rig. Other methods will be utilised, however, for different replenishment situations and sea-states, such as astern refuelling or over the bow transfer to a single point mooring buoy.

A further possible role of the Fleet Tankers is to provide aviation support to naval warships or an amphibious taskgroup.  Corresponding aviation facilities, such as a flight deck, hangar, refuelling equipment, air weapons magazine, aircraft maintenance facilities, and accommodation for associated personnel may therefore play a large part in differentiating the overall size and design of the Fleet Tanker Class from commercial tankers of equivalent cargo capacity. This capability is seen as a large driver of ship cost.


Key Programme Dates

  • Issue of OJEU Notice & MCB advert (inc PQQ) Dec 2007

  • PQQ return date Feb 08

  • Issue of Invitation to Participate in Dialogue (ITPD) Mar/Apr 2008

  • Initial priced bids/solutions returned May 2008

  • Competitive Dialogue phase Jun/Sep 2008

  • Final Bids Oct 08

  • Complete assessment of final bids Dec 2008

  • MOD Internal Approvals Jan/Mar 2009

  • Contract Award Apr 2009

  • Acceptance Off Contract (FT.01) 2012


Current Situation

On 10 December 2007 the MOD issued an "Invitation to Participate in Dialogue" to industry to for up to six fleet tankers at an expected cost of £800 million

On 21 May 2008 the MOD announced the results of the invitation - four companies have been shortlisted:  Fincantieri (Italy); Hyundai (Republic of Korea); Navantia (Spain) and BAE Systems with BMT DSL and DSME (Republic of Korea).   Their proposals will now be tested for Value for Money and the MOD is expected to select one of the companies to design and build the new ships in early 2009.  None of the four bidders will build the Fleet Tankers in the UK.



The MOD requires that the FTs are constructed with quality equipment and material of proven reliability and be:

  • interoperable to NATO standards and with NATO assets
  • designed to maximise reliability, facilitate ease of maintenance, repair or replacement and minimise through life costs
  • designed with open architectures that facilitate support and readily enable future capability upgrades and incorporation of emerging technologies
  • capable of operations worldwide, seasonally unrestricted from Tropical to Arctic (1st Year Ice).

Indicative characteristics of the FTs are:

  • Petroleum Class II and III clean product compliant, reconfigurable for two grades concurrently with capacity up to 18000 m3
  • Carriage of 8 fully laden 20ft ISO containers
  • Potable water cargo capacity of 1300m3
  • Sustained speed of 15knots in Sea State 5
  • Range of 7000nm
  • Replenishment at Sea rigs to include three abeam tensioned jackstay rigs, one astern fuelling reel, single buoy mooring point
  • Helicopter deck and facilities for maintenance and refuelling;
  • Accommodation for up to 100 persons of mixed gender to UK Flag merchant standards
  • Ship life of 25 years
  • OCIMF compliant
  • Classification to Lloyds Register Naval Ship Rules with Naval Ship Auxiliary notation
  • Medium speed diesel propulsion operating on MGO fuel
  • Capable of passage through Panama and Suez canals, i.e. maximum draught of 11m, maximum air draught of 39m, maximum length of 220m.

The ship shall be fitted with equipment and systems to load and offload Cargo (Liquid), Cargo (Solid), Stores (Solid) and Stores (Liquid) to and from:

  1. the shore when in a port
  2. other ships and boats when at anchor
  3. other ships while underway
  4. other ships while rafting
  5. VERTREP by helicopters hovering in flight (solid stores and cargo only)
  6. helicopters on the flight deck.



Above - Indicative design criteria and un-endorsed requirements, published by MARS IPT, October 2007



Commercial and Manufacture Aspects

Affordability and construction times are major considerations and it is anticipated that the MARS fleet tanker design will be simpler than the Wave-class fast fleet tankers delivered by BAE Systems in 2002-3.  It is expected that the Fleet Tanker will be derived from a baseline of commercial tanker designs and adapting existing technology for naval purposes. 

It is the aspiration of the MoD that the solution for the Fleet Tanker is based on proven commercial concepts. It is the intention to keep the specification as “commercial” in nature as possible to keep the price as “commercial” as possible. The MoD intends to keep changes to the contract to a minimum during the build phase, and in order to keep the specification clear it will be prescriptive in nature. Nonetheless, given the MoD’s focus on minimizing ownership costs, for a small number of critical items the MoD may ask the shipbuilder to assess through-life cost to ensure the selection of quality equipment.

There has been considerable debate on the procurement and operation approach for the new tankers. British shipyards, which in recent years have increasingly specialised in construction of sophisticated warships to the MOD’s demanding standards, were not seen as able to compete effectively for the construction of such ships (which will not be classified as warships) compared with international market benchmarks. Paul Lester, the chief executive of VT, said in May 2005: "There could be an opportunity to get some of the hulls of those ships built in China or Eastern Europe and then brought over to the UK. The Mars programme brings that potential because they are support ships; they are not typical."  Assembling the hulls abroad would save a lot of money, he said. "There is no doubt that the cost of producing steel and doing some of the fabrication work offshore would be 25 to 30 per cent less than doing it in the UK. But a lot of work needs to be done to establish quality and reliability."  Other companies also pointed out the advantages in cost and time of building hulls abroad, at least for the first fleet tanker phase. 

After considering the options, the MOD decided that while the ships were "warlike", they were "presently not needed for the protection of UK essential security interests".  The selected procurement path for the fleet tankers is therefore via an OJEU Competition, i.e. any EU company can bid.  The Defence Industrial Strategy announced in December 2005 specifically allows this approach.

The ownership and operation of the ships was another issue, but an MOD study in 2007 essentially backed continuing current arrangements - i.e. the tankers will be operated by the RFA.



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 © 2004-13 Richard Beedall unless otherwise indicated.