The ship has emerged on time and budget from an 11-month upgrade and maintenance period by Babcock in its base port of HM Naval Base Devonport, Plymouth.
The project team successfully met significant challenges, including severe adverse weather conditions, to keep the programme on schedule. This was the ship’s first docking period since being formally commissioned into the Royal Navy in April 2005.
Having successfully completed three weeks of sea trials the ship has passed the formal fleet date inspection by the team judging her readiness and effectiveness to join the operational fleet.
The Commanding Officer of HMS Bulwark, Captain Alex Burton, said:
Through an open, engaging and strong partnership with Babcock Marine, HMS Bulwark has successfully met her fleet date. The docking period presented a challenging mix of complexity, time management and detailed and intricate planning.
This has been underpinned by an overarching desire to succeed from both Babcock Marine and the ship’s company of HMS Bulwark.
Acceptance back into the fleet marks an important date for HMS Bulwark on her path towards regeneration and her future role as the fleet flagship in October this year.
The £30m refit, under an alliance between the MOD, Babcock and BAE Systems, has benefited from the application of Babcock’s knowledge and experience gained on sister vessel HMS Albion, resulting in initiatives and improvements being introduced.
Closer working methods have enabled efficiency and cost-effectiveness to be maximised throughout the docking period, to deliver optimum value for money.
The 450,000-man-hour refit involved the overhaul of 1,625 items of equipment, the manufacture of 1,557 items, and the shipping of 398 tonnes of equipment on and off the ship.
215 hull valves have been removed and replaced, 93 tanks opened, cleaned and surveyed, 21 miles (34km) of electrical cable installed, and 8,000 litres of paint applied to the ship’s outer hull.
HMS Bulwark now has improved aviation facilities (the flight deck has the capacity to operate two heavy-lift Chinook helicopters simultaneously) and upgrades to the floodable dock to float landing craft in and out, including full tactical night-vision capability for her landing craft and aircraft.
Extensive improvements have been made to the living quarters for the ship’s 380 sailors and marines, including bunk spaces, toilets, bathrooms, recreational areas, main galley (kitchen), laundry area and dining area.
The communications equipment has been enhanced, high pressure salt water, drainage and sewage systems improved and the main propulsion system upgraded.
There were improvements to machinery and magazine spaces and IT network capability, as well as defensive weapons upgrades. The ship’s outer hull was also treated with anti-fouling paint which will improve fuel efficiency and speed through the water.
The Babcock project manager, Mike Weeks, said:
A number of challenges have been addressed during the refit, including the addition of 16 alterations and additions during the project, and completion of the refit within the same time frame as Albion, despite an additional 70,000 man-hours involved.
Successes included achievement of all key milestones, an excellent safety culture, the adoption of a single integrated plan, and efficiency improvements such as the dockside services contract arrangements, as well as an excellent partnering relationship.
HMS Bulwark is one of the Royal Navy’s two assault command and control ships. It has a ship’s company of 380, a quarter of whom are made up from 4 Assault Squadron Royal Marines.
Up to 200 marines can be carried in dedicated accommodation for long periods and another 500 in austere conditions for short periods. Her flight deck can accommodate two Chinook or two Merlin helicopters. A large floodable dock holds four large landing craft - with another four carried on davits on the ship’s sides.