Surface Forces: Trying To Understand Heat


June 15, 2016: Britain’s new Type 45 destroyers, making their first appearance in the Persian Gulf, discovered that their gas turbine engines were built (according to the navy specifications) to handle only waters found in temperate and arctic areas. But once in warmer water, like the Persian Gulf, the gas turbine engines will break down frequently. A fix, installing diesel generators in the six existing Type 45s will apparently cost more than the navy can afford at the moment. So Britain faces a crises that is not uncommon.

The heat problems with the Type 45 engines was doubly embarrassing because heat related problems with weapons, engines and electronics of systems built by nations in temperate climates are well known. In the 1990s the U.S. discovered (and solved) problems with jet engines (especially for helicopters) in tropical (and sandy desert) areas. A decade later Germany was embarrassed when its standard assault rifle was found vulnerable to overheating problems during the hot weather in semi-tropical parts of Afghanistan. Russia has heat related problem with the T-90 tanks it sold to India. In all these cases the manufacturers pointed out that they had built the equipment to the specifications given. The U.S. thought they had that problem covered because their equipment was built to operate in American very hot deserts. What was not understood was that not all tropical deserts are alike when it comes to jet engines, which by the 1990s were even being used in tanks. The German officials who approved the design of the German G36 assault rifle allowed for a less expensive design that was not meant for heavy fighting in tropical conditions. When the G36 was designed at the end of the Cold War no one thought that German troops would be fighting in Afghanistan fifteen years later. Russia know how to winterize military gear but overestimated the experience that had gained modifying their tanks and aircraft sold to Middle Eastern nations during the Cold War. When they sold the new T-90 tank to India in the 1990s it turned out that Russian solutions for dealing with the heat were inadequate. Britain had no such excuses because British warships have been designed to operate from the arctic to the tropics since the 18th century.

There were other problems with the Type 45s. Britain commissioned the first Type 45 class destroyers in 2009. The second followed in 2010 and by 2013 all six were in service. For a while the first two of these 8,100 ton ships were defenseless against air attack and it took more than a year to fix that. The problem was the Sea Viper air defense system took longer than planned to complete and pass its acceptance tests.

Sea Viper uses two different Aster missiles and once operational has performed well. The Aster 30 is a 4.8 meter/15 foot long, 445 kg (979 pound), two stage missile that can hit targets as high as 21,000 meters (66,000 feet) and 100 kilometers away. Development of the Aster 30 began in 1990, and it was accepted for service in 2000. A shorter range (20 kilometers) version, the Aster 15, is also available. Both missiles can be launched from the 48 VLS (Vertical Launch Tubes) on each Type 45 ship. Sea Viper is also supposed to be able to hit supersonic anti-ship missiles.

Also known as the D, or Daring class, the Type 45s have a top speed of 53 kilometers per hour, and are also armed with a 114mm (4.5 inch) gun and two 30mm autocannon. A helicopter (Lynx or Merlin) can also be carried, and the helicopter can carry four anti-ship missiles, or two anti-submarines torpedoes. There is space on board the ship for two quad launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, but none are currently installed.

The Type 45 began as part of the Horizon Project. This was a cooperative effort by France, Italy and Britain to design and build a new class of destroyers. Britain initially agreed to buy twelve of the projected twenty ships. Then the Italians and French cut back their orders, and there were increasing disagreements over the ship design. So in 1999, Britain left the program, and went ahead with its own Type 45 design and that appears to have played a part in the mistake with the engine specifications.


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