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OPS 2012 - The Fast Boat Perspective

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Offshore Patrol & Security 2012, held at the Royal Navy Dockyard in Portsmouth UK, from 24th to 26th April attracted over 250 delegates from 40 countries. This high level international conference and exhibition, organised by The Development Network (TDN), is dedicated to the Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) and maritime security sector.

Attendees and speakers included navies, coast guards and professional maritime organisations from all continents. The venue is in an outstanding location and before the event visitors had the opportunity to tour the historic Portsmouth Naval dockyard. The conference included a customer centric exhibition designed to highlight the latest developments in technology and specialist maritime services.

The OPV Capability Day commenced with an opening speech by Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham, former Deputy Chief of Staff (Equipment Capability) Royal Navy. He stated that, ‘the objective over the three days is to address issues common to all navies, coast guards and industry leaders across the globe and provide a platform for enhancing communication among the OPV and maritime sectors.’

TDN achieved an excellent mix of industry OEMs and high level professionals at OPS 2012. Presentation subjects were varied and Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham is an excellent Chairman. He offered relevant comment and was prepared to give a viewpoint based on his wealth of maritime experience in this sector.

The main emphasis of OPS is on ship operations but as a number of presentations demonstrated RHIB, helicopter and now unmanned air and sea assets have a major role to play. The following review of OPS 2012 is from the RHIB & fast boat community perspective.



As part of OPV Capability Day Jon Hill, Training Director of FRC International assessed the future of RHIB and Fast Response Craft (FRC) crew and coxswain training. This included new international qualifications recognised by The Nautical Institute plus specialist advanced modules that support professional sector agency and asset interoperability. From his perspective of 22 years in the Royal Marines as a high speed craft operator and landing craft coxswain he also discussed the effects of fast boat operations on the physical fitness of crew and passengers. This included the requirement for boarding teams to arrive fit to perform demanding and complex tasks following high speed RHIB transits.

Graham Wagstaff of Transas Marine outlined how OPV operators can use simulation to ensure that crews are prepared to operate their vessels safely. He then hosted a visit to their new facilities in Portsmouth incorporating a full mission bridge simulator. Transas also had a mufti-screen simulation system for attendees to operate at OPS. This included the ability to train RIB and fast rescue boat coxswains and crews in launch, recovery, SAR and patrol missions. Transas supply small boat simulation systems to military, commercial and law enforcement organisations.

Kongsberg presented their Polaris RHIB training simulator that is configured with all the necessary equipment to manoeuvre a RHIB in all aspects of small boat handling. Scenarios include tactical navigation, launch and recovery, search and rescue, anti-piracy, port security and team training. The RHIB trainer has the option to be integrated with a multi-axis motion platform that can recreate the real motion of a boat in various seas states and trim conditions.

Commander John Sutcliffe, Royal Navy Maritime Air Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, said that the challenge for future patrol capability is addressing all possible threats and scenarios at sea. A possible answer is a systems approach utilising RHIBs and air assets with clear requirements. The patrol vessel provides 'the brain', UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) provide 'the eyes' and helicopters provide 'the teeth'. Air assets are essential to extend the ship’s surveillance and target classification capabilities but the ‘punch’ is provided by the fast deployment of RHIBs.

Launch and recovery of RHIBs by vessels underway during operations is a major feature of the modern patrol scenario. Vestdavit from Norway showed technical solutions for launching and recovering RHIBS and boats in difficult conditions at sea. The Vestdavit range of boat handling systems and davits are used by navies, coastguards, seismic survey operators, pilot authorities and offshore operators who need to be able to operate small boats safely from larger vessels.

BAE Systems presented an overview of the changing requirements for surface ships in both established fleets and emerging nations. Through their Small Boat Centre of Excellence at Portsmouth, BAE Systems support the Royal Navy and Royal Marines fleet of Halmatic RHIBs. Damen showed the extent of their shipyard presence in many locations around the globe. Their range of patrol craft includes the Damen Interceptor, designed for ultra high-speed patrol duties.

Among questions raised was the difference between ships designed for war fighting or security roles. Patrol roles now include fisheries protection, pollution control and the ability to offer disaster relief. This can require space for casualties or arrested persons. Patrol duties in many parts of the globe are focused on anti-piracy roles operating against crews from multiple nationalities. How to identify individuals, how to prosecute and how to provide law and order in international waters is a major issue that a number of subject matter experts discussed at OPS.

The first point of contact between the patrolling vessel and the suspect craft is usually the RHIB team. For these mobile groups to be effective they need increased situational awareness and data links to and from the mother vessel. OSI displayed their Tactical Asset Control & Tracking (T-ACT) that provides Command & Control (C2) between the mother vessel and embarked small craft. T-ACT is designed to allow the military or security services user to track a wide variety of vessels or assets, enabling close command and control in high tempo situations.

Cobham showed their Marine Interdiction Operations System (MIOS). This situational awareness and Blue Force tracking system is specifically developed for secure boarding party and defence applications. The C4i system has been designed to support military, coast guard, search and rescue, border protection, law enforcement and Special Forces.

Drumgrange showed their XERES Maritime Interdiction System, which is a marine Command, Control & Communications (C3) system for use in Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO). The system is designed to expand operational capability for patrol and boarding operations. XERES incorporates automated navigation, position tracking, video and data links between a command vessel and deployable remote assets, including interdiction craft and boarding parties. The Drumgrange XTREME Tablet PC is a fully marinised unit is designed to operate in harsh environments, including fast open RHIBs conducting maritime interdiction operations.

David Clark Company manufacturer both wired and wireless headset communication systems for a variety of vessels and applications. Systems on show included their 9900 Series Wireless Communication System that allows crew members to move about without being tethered to the vessel. Universal gateways provide the wireless link to the wired intercom. Each gateway accommodates up to four users with wireless belt stations. Users can communicate at a range of up to 100m (300 ft) from the gateway.

Fast craft in offshore patrol, littoral security and SF roles now specify Electro Optical Sensor (EOS) systems for surveillance and to assess threats while underway or moored. FLIR Systems displayed high performance EOS systems that provide forward looking infrared (FLIR) sensor, laser detection and ranging tracking. SeaFLIR Multi Imager with gyro-stabilisation provides stable imagery for fast craft in rough seas and is engineered to withstand the harsh conditions of maritime and military environments.

Boat manufacturers visiting OPS included Willard Marine from the US. Willard manufactures a wide range of boats for navies, coast guards and professional operators worldwide including the US Navy 7 metre and 11 metre RHIB plus SOLAS and patrol craft. CJ Lozano of Willard said, ‘the OPS presentations were excellent and gave good insight into the evolving requirements of this sector.’

US company Tampa Yacht Manufacturing were exhibiting at OPS. TYM design and manufacture specialist patrol craft including their Tempest 44-FCI high-speed coastal interceptor for navies, coast guards and border agencies.

Experienced operators know that speed in fast boats needs to link to trim control. There were a number of new technologies discussed in conference sessions and on display at OPS. Swedish manufacturer Humphree showed their Interceptor system, a stern mounted trim control that is designed to get RHIBs and high speed craft on the plane faster and to maintain the optimum running trim for fuel efficiency. Their most advanced stabilization option provides an effective ride control system that automatically drives the Interceptors to counteract wave induced roll and pitch motion. The trim and list control can also compensate for cross winds or uneven loading. Other stabilisation systems presented at OPS included Quantum and Naiad Dynamics.

Overall OPS demonstrated that the many aspects of modern patrolling require flexibility from both industry manufacturers and end-user organisations to support global interests and protect against global threats. Many nations have a shared interest to keep the sea lanes safe as most maritime nations move the majority of their imports and exports around the world by sea.

The role of the 'ship's boat' has changed dramatically. RHIBs are becoming faster, multi-role craft with the same navigation, communication and information systems that are found on the ship’s bridge. RHIB crews and the teams they transport need to increase their access to mobile information but the technology should not be so complex that it cannot be used in fast moving open boat environments. Recurring themes are modularity, commonality and interoperability.

The RIB & High Speed Craft Directory is pleased to be a media partner and supporter of The Development Network and OPS.

For more information see Offshore Patrol & Security


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