Portugal to Build a New Type of Ship–UxS Carrier

The “plataforma naval multifuncional” (multifunctional naval platform). Portuguese Navy image.

It is not often an entirely new category of ship emerges, but this seems to be the case. Perhaps it was inevitable, but it looks like the Portuguese may be the first to make it happen–a specialized, built for purpose, unmanned systems mothership.

Wish the specs in the lower right above were readable. 

First heard about this ship from Cdr. Salamander. He has some interesting ideas about how such a ship could be used. It is part research ship, part disaster response vessel, and, significantly for the Coast Guard, part Offshore Patrol Vessel. There is more about the ship from Naval News. It is not particularly large, with a crew of about 90 and accommodations for another 100. The cost is reportedly about $100M US, much less than the cost of the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Judging by the size of the helicopter (reportedly an NH-90) on the model, it appears to be 100 to 110 meters (328-360 feet) in length, about the length of the OPC, maybe less. It must be pretty broad if that is an MQ-1C Gray Eagle on the deck. The Span of the Gray Eagle is 56 ft (17 m), but it just does not look like it is in scale. Maybe they have a European sourced UAS in mind. Beam looks to be about 20 to 22 meters based on my presumptions about the length, that is 66 to 72 feet. Those proportions are similar to those of the 6,615 ton Canadian Harry DeWolf class Arctic Offfshore Patrol Ship, 103.6 m (339 ft 11 in) long and a beam of 19 m (62 ft 4 in). By comparison, the beam of both the NSC and OPC is 16m or 54 feet.

The thing that makes this ship totally unique is the runway and ski-jump designed expressly for fixed wing unmanned air systems.

Artist rendering of MQ-9B STOL landing on a big-deck amphibious assault vessel. Photo: Courtesy of General Atomics Aeronautical.

What might make this very useful is the newly developed STOL version of the MQ-9B with shorter span, high lift, folding wings.

Not sure I like this particular design. It is not clear how many UAS and helicopters can be carrier or if there is hangar space. The island is unnecessarily thick and looks too far forward. No indication of speed or endurance. The speed in unlikely to exceed 20 knots, between 16 and 18 knots seems likely, but the concept is novel. Look forward to seeing the ship in final form.

Late Addition: 

After posting this on Facebook, I got some additional information. This is a Google translate from Portuguese. Thanks to Pedro Mateus.

MULTI-PURPOSE PLATFORM SHIP Lisbon, Portugal June 20, 2022 On June 20, 2022, the Portuguese Navy launched a tender limited by simplified prior qualification, via procedure no. of a Multipurpose Vessel/Platform (N-PM), with an execution period of up to 3 years (with delivery until December 2025), for a base price of 94.5 million Euros.

This Multipurpose Ship/Platform (N-PM) will have a total length, between perpendiculars, of 100 meters, a maximum beam (at flight deck level) of 20 meters and a maximum draft of 7.5 meters. It will follow STANAG 4154 (Ed 3) standards and will be able to maintain the operation of lowering and hoisting vessels in sea state 5 on the Douglas Scale. Its garrison will be composed of 1 commander, 7 officers, 8 sergeants and 29 soldiers, in a total of 45 elements. It has accommodation sized up to 28 officers, 30 sergeants and 32 enlisted men, for a total of 90 elements (in addition to the commander). It will be dimensioned for a range of 45 days at a cruising speed of 10 knots.

The N-PM shall comprise a set of aviation facilities including, among others, a flight deck (a ski-jump runway, a spot for helicopter operation, with lighting system, GPI, etc.), hangar for a helicopter (with support for hydraulic maintenance stations, overhead crane, technical lighting, etc.) and a hangar for unmanned aircraft. In terms of organic helicopter, it should support the Lynx MK95A and NH90 aircraft (either in “spot” or in hangar) and EH101 (“spot”). The flight deck must allow the operation of different types of unmanned aircraft, commonly known as “drones” (Ogassa OGS42, Tekever AR3, etc.), as well as all the support required for vertical refueling operations (VERTREP).

Within the scope of semi-rigid vessels, the N-PM will have 3 vessels: a vessel with
SOLAS (“Safety of Life at Sea”) certification for operation as “Fast
Rescue Boat”, with a power of not less than 250 hp; and two non-cooperative approach vessels, with capacity for 8 equipped soldiers, with a maximum speed of 35 knots or higher and a minimum autonomy of 60 nautical miles, for inspection missions , policing, combating drug trafficking, assault and support for a small embarked force.

Following the good practices and installation and operation recommendations of the “Alliance of European Research Fleets” (EUROFLEET), in terms of support systems for scientific research, the N-PM will be designed to be able to operate subsurface Unmanned Vehicles (VENTs) and remotely operated vehicles – “Remotely Operated Vehicle” (ROV). It will have a sensor pavilion (“drop keel”) for the installation of scientific and acoustic sensors; a large volume “Rosette” CTD system (for deep water sampling, with probe capable of operating up to 6,000 m); an MVP system, “Moving Vessel Profiler”, capable of operating up to 700 meters deep with the ship sailing at 8 knots; an “Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler” (ADCP); a “Global Acoustic Positioning System” (GAPS), capable of operating up to 4,000 meters deep. In addition to these organic systems, the N-PM will have the capacity and integration for several other non-organic systems (Piston Corer – Calypso, Vibrocorer, Box Corer, Multi Corer, etc.) as well as all operating and support winches.

Under an integrated architecture of command and control, platform management, and digital information processing and management systems, this N-PM will have a set of navigation systems (IBS, DDU, TACAN, Secure GPS, etc.), with navigation radar surveillance systems, combined warning radar (ARPA capability, “Automatic Radar Plotting Aid” and IMO certification; ECM and Anti-Jamming) and IFF/W-AIS identification systems, as well as underwater surveillance systems (bathythermograph; support for XBT/XSV probe used in the Navy (XBT4, XBT5, XBT7 and MK-8 XBT/XSV) or CTD type probes). In terms of external communications, it will have, among others, satellite communication systems SATCOM and MILSATCOM, GMDSS, submarine telephone, SART, EPIRB and ICCS.

In terms of armament, the N-PM will be equipped, at least, with 4 “softmounts” for a Browning M2 .50 heavy machine gun, with a firing range limiter and respective accessories, and a base, with ballistic protection for the Browning part and respective operator; and with 2 pieces of Hotchkiss salvo. The N-PM will be equipped with magazines and armories capable of storing various portable weapons, ammunition, pyrotechnic material and demolition material and respective detonators.

Technical drawing and 3D model via the Portuguese Navy Ships Directorate
Editing and composition by “Espada & Escudo”

6 thoughts on “Portugal to Build a New Type of Ship–UxS Carrier

  1. It’s an interesting design and I’m curious to see how it works out, however I do want to correct one mistake here. You claim this is a new kind of ship, but we already have two classes of drone carriers mislabeled as “Littoral Combat Ships”, and it’s also looking like the Turkish TCG Anadolu may serve primarily as a drone carrier.

    • I think the distinction is how much the design was driven by the support of UAS including the flight Deck designed fixed wing UAS. Turkish TCG Anadolu is going to use fixed wing UAS, but it was not built for that purpose and is only adopting UAS because they have been denied the F-35 UxS was certainly in the plan from the beginning, but they were options, not the sole purpose of the design. USVs and UUVs were always planned for the MCM role, but they were not necessarily part of the planned ASW and ASuW modules.

  2. Could be a possible mothership design for an FRC group. It would provide an organic helo and large UAV capability and resupply for a squadron of FRC operating in the Western Pacific. You could get a mothership and a handful of FRCs for the price of 1 OPC.

    • The Coast Guard has never done much in the way of multi-ship operations like the Japan CG and China CG do. They were kind of forced into mating the FRC with buoy tender because of the short range of the FRC, but a mother ship/multiple FRCs combination might make a very effective sweep and this would include medium altitude long endurance UAS that even the NSCs cannot provide.

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