Wednesday 28th Sep 2016 - Logistics Manager

Rocket science

Missile manufacturer MBDA has taken delivery of five canister rotation units (CRUs) from Stanley Handling for use in the loading of Seawolf missiles onto the Royal Navy’s Type 23 frigates.

The units are based upon a significantly modified Robur pedestrian-operated lift truck, integrated with a rotator unit and a canister handling cradle designed to MBDA’s specifications.

In service since 1990, the Type 23 frigate is the mainstay of Britain’s modern surface fleet, with 13 ships active in the Royal Navy. Originally designed for use in an anti-submarine warfare role, the frigate has evolved into a multi-purpose ship able to operate worldwide in a range of roles including embargo operations, disaster relief and surveillance, alongside her fighting capabilities.

The frigate’s role has expanded to include anti-surface warfare and extra weapons systems, such as the MBDA Seawolf Vertical Launch (VL) point missile defence system – effective against both aircraft and missile threats. This has thrown up new logistical challenges.

Thirty-two Seawolves are carried in a silo onboard the Type 23, and installed in vertical, sealed and self-contained launch canisters, ready for firing. The missiles are stored and transported in horizontal steel frames and were previously rotated into position using a slow and manually-intensive winching system with major operational limitations. MBDA needed a handling system that would substantially improve the speed and efficiency of the procedure while adhering to the highest safety standards.

The Seawolf canister rotation units supplied by Stanley Handling are loaded by crane onto the ammunition tender and bolted into position. The canisterised missiles are then lifted onto the truck’s rotator cradle by crane using a webbing net – affectionately known as “the nappy” – at the base and a collar at the upper end. The canisters are locked into position and then rotated from the horizontal to the vertical prior to loading into the frigate’s missile silo. The process is reversed during offloading.

Stanley Handling says the most stringent demands placed on its design team included meeting all operational requirements within a specific weight limit and consideration of the potentially extremely hazardous nature of the load in question.

Against a specified maximum unladen weight of two tonnes the CRUs came in at 1,890kgs, gained in part by high-precision machining of the rotator attachment to help save on weight without reducing performance capability.

Every aspect of the unit was examined and specifications uprated. Galvanised steel, and both aluminium and epoxy paints were used to help protect the units from the elements. A gel battery which can withstand extreme temperatures has been installed and the hydraulic system filled with a high-specification “inert” fluid in view of the proximity of high explosives.

The vehicle is certified to CAT C and BS12895/ 2000, which Stanley says is “rare in equipment of this type”. Security demands mean operator access is restricted to specially trained personnel by key. Micro switches are fitted throughout while mechanical safety stops on the rotator cradle and on the truck ensure safe handling of the missile containers. An emergency hand pump provides back-up.

MBDA expects the introduction of the CRUs to significantly reduce the time required to resupply the Type 23 with ammunition, a particularly crucial consideration during naval operations, as well as making the procedure simpler and safer.