The HMS Bulwark of Christmas: the road test

Sometimes the Christmas road test is easy to pigeonhole. Could be a truck or a train or a plane or a V8-powered shopping cart, but it will be singular of purpose. This year? Hmm. Not so fast, the way of the testers.

This is the HMS Bulwark, you see, of the uk Royal Navy Albion-class landing platform dock – or amphibious assault ship, in technical terms.

It is not the new ship of war, nor the biggest, nor the fastest, nor many other things that sometimes mark a Coach’s Christmas road test. But their multiplicity makes it incredibly special. It has more facets than any other machine we have yet tested, and it is absolutely vital to the Royal Navy, whose flagship vessel was recently and one day will be again.

It is a key part of operations. Where Bastion goes, sails in a working group next to a helicopter of the race, a tanker of fuel, ammunition, tanker trucks, three anti-submarine frigates, a destroyer air defense, a submarine, and (when has it) a carrier, and, what is more likely is that the commands of all of them.

As well as Royal Navy sailors, who leads the Royal Navy on board, too, and you can put it on the ground at the time of notification, in helicopters or in its eight landing craft, four of which Bastion accommodated in the inside of his helmet, that the floods so they can float in the sea. Bulwark can travel 500 miles in a day, has been prepared to move in less than five days during the last five years and can be deployed anywhere in the world within three weeks.

With which you can do anything, from the plucking of the refugees in the sea to make the diplomatic equivalent of walking softly while carrying a big stick. If you put a land force on earth, he keeps control of her, and although its purpose is now more important to Britain’s diplomacy and security relationships that never, goes about his business in absolutely discreet fashion. In a comparison of terms, is the leader of the band, the driver, the steering wheel of containment, of the central unit, the foreman, the choreographer. It is, in short, the boss.

Over five days, they gave us the up to now unseen quantities of incredibly generous access to their engineering, their systems, their procedures, their vehicles and, above all, to his crew, to whom we are eternally grateful.


Never before have we held a Christmas road test that involves many disparate elements. Apparently, this is a test of the HMS Bulwark, 18,500 ton naval not ‘boat’, note, because with withering glances you’ll be reminded that it is a boat, a submarine, or landing craft – that is the axle that carries the load various.

In 176.8 m long and with a total of 28.9 m of the beam, Bastion is a bit smaller than the typical cross-channel ferry, and it is usually manned by a crew of 385 people – although, as we shall see, this number can increase considerably.

As a tetchy celebrity, the Bastion is not very thick skin. The majority of the steel hull is only a few millimeters thick. Bastion is designed to sit in the middle of a group of tasks, and although it has a large amount of radar defenses and can lead to 500 heavily equipped foot soldiers, their own armor and weaponry are scarce.

There are two anti-missile miniguns, one forward, one backward. These systems of Porter, that the use of the machine Gun-style cannon of an A10 Thunderbolt ‘tank-buster’ aircraft, are mostly autonomous, and between them they have near 360deg coverage.

Then there are two cannons of 20 mm, a manually operated and directed, as well as eight general-purpose machine guns and four miniguns. All, of truth, are for closequarters of the leftovers.

Bastion is not designed for problems naval destroyers, but if I were a man in a speed boat full of explosives, you might want to turn your around and have a quiet word with yourself in your place.

Bastion is fed relatively conventionally by modern ship standards. There are two V16 turbocharged diesel engines, each in a different compartment in the case of fixed assets/fire/flooded, so that the boat can conserve its ability to maneuver. That level of redundancy is a topic that we will return to a lot, by the way, since the Royal Navy – as the majority of the services – is quite fondly, and with good reason.

Each engine (there are two separate four-cylinder auxiliary power generators, too) drives a generator whose electric motors instead of power of the two screws. And that is the conventional ‘ship’ bit.

But Bastion has another trick. Through vast pipes, you can quickly take 3000 tons of sea water in their ballast tanks to lower itself into the water, then drop your back door, with which, another couple of million litres of water roll in the float that four large landing craft, each one can carry 130 Royal Marines in land, or a combination of soldiers and vehicles, up to and including a war tank – as long as it’s not too choppy to open the door, you understand.

There are four smaller landing craft – able to take 35 troops each – hanging from the Bulwark sides, and above and behind these is a helicopter on the cover (but not hangar). There is space for two helicopters Merlin (medium) of the earth at the same time, or one of the Chinook (large) – two Chinooks in a push, in times of great need, despite their proximity is dangerous.

With bridge equipment, vehicles and metal roller-roads stored in its interior, also, Bastion is better equipped than any other ship to put troops on the ground quickly. That’s going to happen again so quickly, too. “We’ve created a beach as a transit point, not a goal in itself,” he said, “then we move.” The beauty of Bastion is that you can quickly navigate to the other in front of the beach. “We do not do opposed landings.”


Where do we start? As with engineering, there is quite a bit for the interior. There are the bits where the 385 crew do their work, the places where the same people rest, and enough space to temporarily house hundreds of marines, or even 1500 refugees.

But let’s start at the bridge, because it is the center of everything. In a quiet place in contrast, in benign conditions (weather and political), there can be as little as three people on what is the longest bridge in the Royal Navy – although not necessarily the one with the best visibility, because the windows were taken from an old Type 23 destroyer when it was built and are less deep than they could be.


It is no surprise that the numbers of staff increase more than 20-years-old when the ship maneuvers. Even so, the windows give a better view than that of any other place apart from the flight control center in the back of the superstructure, because those two rooms to one side, the Bulwark and only has five bull’s eyes: in the captain’s, the admiral and the commodore cabins, the admiral’s dining room, and because looking through the window is a useful way of assessing the weather from the met office.

The main bridge is the largest in range of the hive of activity on board, but there are others. There is a steering wheel and the throttle up there, but, because of the redundancy, are replicated in other places. Low and near the rear of the hull of the Ship Control Centre (SCC), where the main controls that are replicated, where the damage and the state of the boat is closer and where engineers and technicians run of the Bastion of the mechanical systems.

Here, also, the majority of the systems are mostly electronically controlled, but the SCC is also where the sailors are issued by the engineers to any of the compartments of the need to take care in order to maintain the Stronghold goes, all via steep stairs and through vertical and horizontal hatches that have different, clearly marked states of closure. Some can be open, except in the emergency of flooding. Exterior doors should be kept closed unless someone is going through them, because Bastion of the hermetic interior is slightly pressurized, so that no air is rough we will put in.

But sometimes, just sometimes, not everything can be done electronically or remotely, and given the navy the need for redundancy and maintaining Bulwark operational even in critical conditions, you can reach all parts, even if it is through the smallest of crawl space, to effect a revision.

Away from the exploitation of the ship, there are a myriad of other rooms and compartments, each one just as important as the other in their way. Chief among them is the combination of the Operations Room, which is, in turn, an air traffic control center, helicopter and a ship traffic control center for landing ships (under the command of the Royal Navy, and is where all the Bulwark and operational (that is to say, fighty and sneaky) activities are co-ordinated. When Bastion is in a group of tasks, the number of staff in the Ops Room swells up again, because you can coordinate an entire fleet, or even a whole task force, operations – that is why there are the admiral and the commodore cabins and the commodore has a seat on the bridge.

Bastion is also laced with cabins, rooms, sick bays, kitchens, dining rooms, even wood and metalwork workshops. Between these run vast networks of corridors, with exposed wiring and pipes, and the exhaust and fire extinguishing equipment every few meters, after hard-learned lessons from 1982, the Malvinas conflict.


The HMS Bulwark is more long distance runner than sprinter, despite the fact that its two V16 turbo diesel generators do 8500bhp each one, and that its four-cylinder generators to make 2108bhp each one. Each electric drive motor produces 4000bhp, and despite the Bulwark and sometimes it runs on only one, when everything is running at full chat, the Bulwark has a maximum speed of around 18 knots.

The maximum speed, however, is not the Bastion. Instead, it is designed to travel in a straight line over long distances without the fuel burn, although these things are relative. That is going to do about six inches to the gallon.

Bulwark of the range, although it is nominally 8,000 miles at 15 knots. If you wanted to get somewhere in a hurry, the range drops, but it is not a coincidence that, even at full chat, would not be sufficient diesel (stored in different tanks, and filtered) to get to the Falkland Islands and do something useful when he arrived. In the meantime, if care is taken, it could all be, but you get to Australia.

When in a group of tasks, there is little chance that the Bastion will have a tanker with him, but if not, the most friendly navies to share fuel freely with each other. So every time you can, the Bastion of the crew of refueling, although the quality of the fuel varies. (Japanese fuel is supposedly very good.) In the case of a duff batch, the fuel is pumped on-board are stored in separate tanks, from where it is filtered – perhaps several times before you get to the engines. It is preferable and faster to refuel made to the sea, despite the fact that it is a furry, long-term process of sailing than 100,000 tons of warships in the vicinity for hours at a time.


Bastion is not designed to be especially easy to handle, but for a boat of its type, it’s not too bad. The radius of gyration (although not listed on a stock exchange) is “tight for a vessel of her size and tonnage”, although it takes more than five minutes to perform a 360deg turn. There is a bow thruster to help.

Throttle levers on the bridge to respond in a positive way, and the action of the steering wheel (small and not round, but does not complete a full turn, so that it does not matter) it is lightweight and soft, without self-centered.

The controls fail and the back-up in the SCC fail, it is time for radio instructions down to the Steering Gear Compartment, innumerable flights of vertical steps and through a narrow crawl space, where a large wheel may have the effect of a change in the rudder angle – although because it is hot and narrow, and two people have to be there for the duration of any coupling, high alert or replenishment of fuel to maneuver, that is not one of the most precious concerts on board.

Not that is on the bridge, in a helicopter or on board a landing is not necessarily less stressful, because the different elements that you want the ship to be in different positions. Helicopters you want the ship to be as still as possible, at an angle, so that a constant breeze blowing through the deck, near the front – but not so full front that the wind is blocked, and the helicopter trajectory altered, by the shelter of the superstructure. The small side landing, however, he wants the boat turned so that they are sheltered from any waves. And the great landing want the boat directly into the waves in the five knots, you can travel with the aft end of the ramp down, so as unchoppy as possible. And it is possible that all these people want all of these things while you’re on a trip.


The HMS Bulwark is an Albion-class landing platform dock, and the thing about them is that you do not want: you want two. So Bulwark has a sister ship, HMS Albion. When launched at the beginning of the decade of 2000 (Bulwark entered service in December 2004), the cost is £430 million euros for the couple.

The reason that I want two of them in these days, however, is that the defence budget has been, er, adjusted downwards a little bit here and there over the years, and it has been decided that only one of the Albion-class vessel will be in the operational availability at any time, for five years at a stretch.

The other, meanwhile, is going into ‘extended readiness’ which, after a final three-month deployment, HMS Bulwark will enter the read this. HMS Albion is coming out of a £30 million refurbishment and will become the flagship of the fleet. Bastion will be rebuilt during the next few years, but could be done at sea in a period of three months if it is necessary, because all that work doesn’t happen at once, or in a big hurry.

In any way, an Albion-class ship is expensive – around £ 20 million a year, all in. That is the reason for the appeal of having to be sitting doing nowt, at a cost of £300 thousand per year.


HMS Bulwark they do not operate at the glamorous end of the war of the spectrum. You do not have the presence of an aircraft carrier, or the power of a destroyer, or the stealth and chunky-jumpered the romance of a nuclear submarine. If you are part of a rock ‘n’ roll tour, it would not be the tour bus, or the big stage of the truck. It would be the last Transit van away from the place, and the first to arrive to the next, after he had been expelled without stopping for the night.

As a result, there is a lot to like HMS Bulwark. No other boat has the same versatility. No other boat has enough for many purposes and functions. Bastion has a unique blend of manpower, fire power, the intelligence and the nous and not the task of the fleet should be without it. It is an unsung hero that deserves some kind of recognition.


– Extraordinary versatility of an Outstanding range Designed to be easy to fix and keep operational, as an old Land Rover


– You can’t take care of your own helicopter Scary if the rear door open in rough waters


Price £210 million Power of 17,000 bhp maximum speed of 18 knots from 0 to 18 knots , Finally, the Range of 8000 miles Max g 360deg in 5min approx

Read last year’s Christmas road test – East Anglian Air Ambulance