Steller Systems Unveils ‘Fearless’ Multi Role Support Ship Concept | Marine lookout

Steller Systems unveil ‘Fearless’ Multi Role Support Ship concept

Following confirmation that the Royal Navy’s MRSS program is going ahead, Steller Systems has announced it Fearless concept as an alternative approach to design and as a starting point for discussion.

Fearless is not only designed to enable littoral attack operations, but is relatively heavily armed and intended to survive in highly contested A2AD environments. This is quite at odds with the RN’s “non-complex warship” ambition for MRSS, but is certainly worth considering.

Amphibian

The 170 meter long ship weighs approximately 15,500 tons when fully loaded and has a capacity of approximately 800 lane meters for vehicles, containers or off-board systems. (This compares to 1,200 LnM for the Bay-class auxiliaries and 500 LnM for the Albion-class LPDs). The vehicle deck is accessible via optional side doors or the stern ramp, but there is no well dock.

The stern ramp allows the launching and recovery of ships with a length of up to 20 meters and a weight of 30 tons. These could be Commando Insertion Craft, USVs, UUVs, XLUUVS or vehicles offloaded onto mexeflotes or the like. Although not as versatile as a well dock, this arrangement saves space and weight but can be used safely further offshore. Flooding a ship to use the dock is also only really feasible in light sea states and low risk environments.

Steller Systems Fearless MRSS concept
Command insertion vessels utilize the stern ramp, while Steller System’s innovative Inflatable Launch and Recovery System (ILARS) is used to deploy USVs over the side.

There is space available on the upper deck for up to 5 TEU containers/PODS or additional weapon systems. The hangar can accommodate two Merlin-sized helicopters or a mix of helicopters and UAS. Fearless can comfortably fill the mothership role already occupied by the Bay class, supporting missions as varied as mine warfare, seabed warfare, ASW and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

Fast

The hull was designed using Steller System’s HullTune optimization suite to ensure the best balance between hydrodynamic efficiency and stability. Combined with an advanced propulsion system, a mix of conventional shaft lines and azipods, the ship could reach speeds of up to 30 knots – much faster than typical amphibious ships. This change in speed would allow the ship to quickly reposition to conduct raiding flights over a wide theater before subsequently delivering impacts to the beach. The ship could then quickly leave the threat area to conduct other operations or reload with additional or alternative forces.

  • Model on display at Combined Naval Event, May 2024

  • The propulsion system uses azipods and counter-rotating electrically driven shafts that combine with a hydrodynamically efficient hull design that allows the ship to travel at a speed of 30 knots while consuming less power than a Type 23 frigate.

  • Combined azipod and conventional shaft. The Aizipod offers great maneuverability at low speed. At high speed they are locked and steering is via the rudder on the centerline (Photo: Navy Lookout).

  • Overview of the model (Photo: Navy Lookout).

Armed

The heavy armament indicated in the concept includes two medium caliber guns. The 127mm Mk4 would enable Naval Gunfire Support, while the 76mm Super Rapid is an all-rounder that can also provide air and missile defense with advanced ammunition. In addition, a VLS silo has been indicated for various missile options. The defenses close by are well covered with a mix of 30mm guns, Phalanx CIWS and DragonFire LDEW mounts. This is complemented by a frigate-sized primary radar and soft kill defense systems.

This is just a concept and if developed further would require much more detailed design work and nuanced equipment choices by the customer. It may make more sense to match the equipment to the Type 31 frigate and select the same weapons, sensors and CMS for commonality, thus reducing logistics support and training costs.

Positioning

Fearless is a hybrid design that combines frigate armament with amphibious capabilities. Perhaps best summarized as a cross between an enlarged Danish Absalon-class logistics fighter and BAE Systems’ Adaptable Strike Frigate concept. While it is unlikely that the RN budget for MRSS will extend to such a heavy armament, there is an argument that this approach would give the fleet much-needed additional mass of surface combatants. When deployed in a littoral attack role, it could operate in higher risk areas, reducing the need for valuable escorts for protection. Fearless was designed to be broken down into smaller, more capable ships rather than as a direct replacement for the Albion and Bay classes. More platforms create more uncertainty for the opponent about where they can strike. The concept has also been developed with exports in mind and the level of armament is entirely up to the customer.

The multi-role ship concept will always remain controversial, as many argue that it is better to build specialized ships rather than ‘jack-of-all-trades’ platforms that trade excellence in a given capability for flexibility. A ship with this level of complexity would also require the skills of industrial partners with high-level experience in combat systems integration, while a more bare-bones MRSS could be built by a greater number of shipbuilders.

Just like the BMT Ellida concept, Fearless provides another useful option for discussion around MRSS and it is likely that other entities will make proposals soon. Whether the MRSS design will emphasize aviation, logistics, armament and overall flexibility or will be dictated primarily by budgetary parsimony remains to be seen.

(Image: Steller Systems)

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