Navy ships to carry deep sea robot subs

A new generation of ships being built for the naval service will carry unmanned planes along with deep sea search and rescue robot submarines.

The navy’s most senior officer, Flag Officer Commodore Mark Mellett has confirmed the vessels, to be built in Appledore, Devon, will be 12m longer than the most modern warships in the fleet, the 78m-long LE Niamh and LE Roisín.

Commodore Mellett revealed the ships will have a longer deck area which would “accommodate remotely-operated submersibles” and a decompression chamber for divers.

“It means we can then conduct more search-and-rescue and search-and-recovery operations. It means we could recover black boxes from (sunken) aircraft. We would also be able to look at the sea’s environmental habitat and integrity even closer,” the naval chief said.

He said the extended deck area would also enable the navy to deploy unmanned planes for the first time.

Commodore Mellett said the ships will also be equipped with Dynamic Positioning (systems) which means the vessels will be able to hold to exact satellite positioning. “That will enhance our ability for more complex operations,” he said.

The two news ships will be built in Appledore at the cost of €100 million.

The first is expected to arrive by Jan 2014 and will replace the LE Emer which has been in service for 36 years.

The second will arrive a year later but a decision has not yet been finalised on whether its admission to the fleet will lead to the decommissioning of either the Aisling, Aoife, Orla or Ciara.

Commander Mick Malone, who is helping to oversee the building programme, said the new ships will be the navy’s fastest with a top speed of 23 knots, significantly higher than the 18 knots achieved by the navy’s older vessels.

They will also be equipped with “Power Take In Systems” which will enable major fuel savings as engines can be shut down in favour of generator power when the ships are not required to achieve top speeds. This will also enhance the engines’ lifespan.

Furthermore, the naval service is also looking at introducing sail technology to cut fuel bills but it is unlikely to incorporate this in new ships for the foreseeable future.

The first ship to be delivered has not yet been named but its captain will be Lt Commander Ken Minehane, 43, a native of Bantry, Co Cork. He has previously commanded the LE Orla and Le Niamh.

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