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Unarmed Royal Navy T45 destroyer breaks down mid-Atlantic

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The Royal Navy's new Type 45 destroyers continue to suffer from technical mishaps, with first ship of the class HMS Daring arriving a week late in Portsmouth on Saturday following emergency propulsion repairs in Canada. The £1.1bn+ ship had previously broken down in mid-Atlantic.

The News of Portsmouth reported on the breakdown and the destroyer's delayed return to its home port, noting that a similar propulsion problem had occurred just four months previously during an outing in the Solent for families of the ship's company.

Martin Carter, whose son Philip is a marine engineer aboard Daring, told the paper:

"They've been having lots of trouble with the drivers on the ship.

"It's disappointing for them to get so many problems. It doesn't reflect well on the navy, the government or the firms involved. It's a shame because so much taxpayers' money has been spent on this class of ships."

The "drivers" which have been giving so much trouble on the Type 45s are the 20-megawatt electric motors which turn the ships' propellors. Power for these is generated by gas turbine generators and passed through an electric transmission which avoids the need for a complex mechanical gearbox and heavy shafts linking the prime movers to the propellors.

The Royal Navy has already used such an electric transmission for many years in its Type 23 frigates, though the Type 23s' version is much less powerful and only used for operations at slower speeds driven by diesel prime movers. However other, much more powerful electric transmissions are also at sea already, for instance in the liner Queen Mary 2.

Like these previous examples, the Type 45s' buggy electric drive units are supplied by French-based multinational Converteam, formerly known as Alstom Power Conversion.

The Type 45s' hulls and some of their kit - for instance the fire-control radar - are made in Britain but much of the colossal expense of the ships has gone on equipment from the US, Italy and France. Particularly well-known are their French-made Aster air-defence missiles, which have been delayed for several years following repeated failures in test-firings caused by a manufacturing fault.

The UK Public Accounts Committee went so far to describe the missile-system, named "Sea Viper" in British service, as "disgraceful" in 2009 ... and that was before the most recent test failure. However the flaws in the Aster missiles are now reportedly rectified and successful firings have since taken place. The UK Ministry of Defence expects to declare its first Sea Viper system operational next year: until then, the Type 45 destroyers will continue to be almost unarmed, able to employ only basic guns and cannon.*

Commenting on Daring's propulsion difficulties, an MoD spokesperson emphasised that the latest propulsion difficulties had been relatively minor, with only a brief total loss of thrust and repairs carried out in Canada using parts airfreighted in. The MoD told the News:

"With any first of class ship there are going to be technical issues that need to be put right.

"Any first of class is likely to have some problem and it's good to get it ironed out early on."

HMS Daring was delivered to the Royal Navy following extensive MoD-supervised sea trials in 2008. She is now on her second captain. ®

Bootnotes

*Apart from Sea Viper, the only armament possessed by a Type 45 is a single 4.5-inch "Kryten" gun turret, primarily useful for bombarding targets ashore (within a few miles of deep water) and two light 30mm cannon for close-in work against pirate dhows or the like.

Sea Viper will not enhance the destroyers' abilities against other ships or land targets when it becomes operational as it has no surface-to-surface mode. It is said to be superior to any other system against missiles and aircraft, perhaps even offering an effective defence against widely-feared shipkiller missiles of Russian manufacture which approach their target at supersonic speeds. However Aster/Sea Viper has never been tested against a supersonic target and there are no plans to do so, which means that any battle plan based on such a capability would be a gutsy call indeed.

In most situations the most useful capabilities of a Type 45 would reside in her embarked helicopter and possible party of Royal Marines. ®

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