Navy ships' design attacked: Expert blames cost cuts for 'built-in overcrowding' on helicopter carrier

THE ROYAL NAVY'S new commando helicopter carrier, HMS Ocean, will be late into service and too small for the force it is intended to carry, with 'built-in overcrowding', according to an expert on marine operations who was involved in its design. And the sacrifice of operational effectiveness to cost-cutting could be repeated with the Navy's two other new amphibious ships.

The attack on the Ministry of Defence and successive defence ministers in the journal Navy International comes from Ewen Southby-Tailyour, who has just retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marines, and was central to the recapture of the Falkland Islands.

Lt Col Southby-Tailyour says that in order to reduce costs the new commando helicopter carrier is only designed to carry 500 troops instead of the full 800 in an amphibious group, but there are plans to pack the extra 300 on board with camp beds.

'To actually design-in discomfort and overcrowding is a very poor show indeed, is not the way to treat the embarked force and smacks of financially driven sharp practice,' he says in the article.

The contract for building Ocean was awarded to Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering and Kvaerner Govan last May. It will not be in service before 1998, although it was due in 1997.

And the other ships - known as LPDs (landing platform docks) - 'will now only meet a hotchpotch of criteria that has been added to and reduced over the last years in a haphazard manner to satisfy the whim of successive ministerial cost reviews', Lt Col Southby-Tailyour says.

All three amphibious ships were originally designed to convey forces a short distance to reinforce Nato's northern flank in Norway. But the changed world situation means that they could have to travel further. Yet, rather than being made bigger, they have been made smaller.

Lt Col Southby-Tailyour says 'prevarication' over the ships' design, attempts to save money and delays were self-defeating, with more than pounds 40m swallowed up as old ships had to be run on.

The LPDs to replace Fearless and Intrepid are unlikely to be in service before 2002, Lt Col Southby-Tailyour says. This means Fearless 'will need at least two more pounds 100m refits'.