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10 Jul 14. HMS Ocean refit running behind schedule. A major refit to Royal Navy helicopter carrier HMS Ocean has run behind schedule, meaning the vessel may well be unable to take part in the ‘Cougar 14’ exercise.
The £65m (US$111m) refit of the UK Royal Navy (RN) helicopter carrier HMS Ocean is running more than three months behind schedule, sources have told IHS Jane’s. The delay has resulted in Invincible-class former carrier HMS Illustrious being brought to readiness to replace Ocean on a major exercise in the Middle East. Work on Ocean, undertaken at Babcock Marine at Devonport naval base, was scheduled to have been completed in March. However, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed to IHS Jane’s on 9 July that the ship has not yet been handed back to the RN. The 15-month-long refit programme began in December 2012 and has involved more than 60 upgrades and improvements to the 21,000-ton landing platform helicopter (LPH), as well as a complete refurbishment of its flight deck, hangar, and aviation facilities. Many of Ocean’s communications and weapon systems were also replaced or refurbished. In dry dock, the ship’s hull received a fresh coat of anti-fouling paint and its engines, propellers, shafts, rudders, and stabilisers were all overhauled.
RN sources have told IHS Jane’s that the refit project began to slip behind schedule in mid-2013 as a result of the introduction of a new project management system by the contractor and problems funding overtime payments for dockyard workers. On the other hand, company sources have complained that the RN changed work specifications mid-way through the refit. Defence sources in London told IHS Jane’s that delays to the refit were due to unexpected problems only discovered when the 19-year-old ship went into refit. One source commented: “Ship refits are always subject to change as work schedules develop in accordance with a ship’s individual maintenance requirements, which only become apparent during refit.”
UK Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology Philip Dunne told parliament on 8 July: “The cost of the HMS Ocean [refit] programme is within the values approved for the project. The final cost will be determined when the contract negotiations for the additional work that was identified during the upkeep period have been concluded between the Ministry of Defence and the contractor.” An MoD spokesperson declined to confirm any details of the delays or give any prediction when Ocean would be handed back to the RN to begin its two month-long Flag Officer Sea Training (FOST) pre-deployment preparations. Without undergoing mandatory FOST training, Ocean will be unable to re-join the fleet, precluding the vessel from sailing to the Middle East in mid-August with the Exercise ‘Cougar 14’ task group. The spokesperson said a final decision on which ship would take part in the exercise had yet to be taken. IHS Jane’s has learnt that Illustrious , now also roled as an LPH, is currently undergoing pre-deployment maintenance at Babcock’s Rosyth dockyard to allow the ship to replace Ocean on the three month-long ‘Cougar 14’ deployment. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond had previously announced that Illustrious was to be retired in 2014 to become a floating museum or other attraction of national importance. UK Armed Forces Minister Mark Francois declined to give details of the maintenance period for Illustrious or the ship’s participation in ‘Cougar 14’, telling Parliament on 8 July: “I am withholding details of the future programme for HMS Illustrious as disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the capability, effectiveness, or security of the armed forces. However, as first announced on 15 December 2010, HMS Illus