The British Royal Navy recently received the first of four Tide class fleet replenishment ships. These are basically oil tankers equipped to refuel ships at sea while also providing aviation fuel, lubricants, water, spare parts, and other supplies. The design is optimized for supporting the two new aircraft carriers Britain is building, the first of which (the Prince of Wales) is to enter service in 2020. The Tide class ships are 39,000 ton, 200.9 meter (622 feet) long vessels that also contain a helicopter hanger and landing pad for a helicopter as large as a 22 ton CH-47. Max speed is 49 kilometers an hour. In addition to the crew of 63 there are accommodations for 46 passengers (marines, commandos, trainees). Eight standard (20 foot) shipping containers can be carried. Armament consists of two Phalanx (20mm autocannon) for anti-missile defense and two 30mm autocannon for defense against helicopters and small boats (pirates, terrorists). Additional work to equip the ship with special equipment is being done in Britain and the first Tide class ship will enter service by the end of 2017.
This project became a political crisis in 2012 when it became clear that no British, or European, shipbuilder could match the prices (and equivalent quality) of Asian builders. The best bid was from a South Korean firm, who offered to build the four ships for $711 million, with 20 percent of the work done in Britain. The best European bid was for $950 million, with 35 percent of the work done in Britain. The Defense Ministry wanted to take the cheaper South Korean bid but a number of British politicians were willing to pay more to have more work done in Britain. The Defense Ministry officials pointed out that the South Koreans were currently the best shipbuilders in the world, especially at specialty type ships. This battle between politics and economics was resolved in favor of Daewoo Shipbuilding, which is delivering on schedule.