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UK's Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance vessel plan becalmed

A year after the UK announced it would acquire a new ocean surveillance vessel to safeguard critical infrastructure in the North Atlantic region, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has still yet to decide on the capability required, procurement strategy, or in-service date.

Published in March 2021 the Defence Command Paper ‘Defence in a competitive age' outlined plans to acquire a single Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance Ship (MROSS) to protect critical underwater infrastructure in the Atlantic, reflecting growing concerns as to the vulnerability of undersea cable infrastructure to sabotage by submarines.

The MoD said at the time that the ship, with a crew of around 15, would enter Royal Navy service by 2024. It further added that the MROSS “will be fitted with advanced sensors and will carry a number of remotely operated and autonomous undersea drones” and would “also be able to support other defence tasks, including exercises and operations in the Arctic”.

The MROSS was subsequently re-cast as the Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance vessel. A programme manager position was established in the MoD's Defence Equipment and Support organisation in April 2021 to manage the development of options, and a senior responsible owner was appointed in Navy Command in October last year.

However, what was originally foreseen as a fast-track acquisition programme has stalled. In November last year defence procurement minister Jeremy Quin told parliament in a written answer that while options for the Multi-Role Ocean Surveillance vessel procurement strategy and project schedule were under development, no firm decisions have yet been made. Furthermore, he said that no precise date had been set for entry into service, rolling back on the 2024 date publicised by the MoD just six months earlier.

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