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18 September 2015

DSEI 2015: Outsourcing Naval Training Works

At DSEI in London this week, an unusual vessel was moored alongside the frigates and destroyers from visiting navies. VN Partisan, a former platform support vessel from North Sea operations, offered visitors tours and demonstrations of its maritime training capabilities – in conjunction with personnel from the Royal Marines.

Partisan by SeaOwl

Operated by SeaOwl Group, Partisan is a multi-task training vessel aimed at providing outsourced training facilities for maritime operations. In 2010, the commander of the French Navy’s active component (ALFAN – Amiral Commandant de la Force d’Action Navale) found himself confronted with budget cuts and resource restrictions that made it impossible to use operational vessels for at-sea training. The answer was to examine methods by which such training – a critical component of maintaining readiness – could be outsourced and provide the Marine Nationale with a facility that could be turned on and off as required.

In 2011, SeaOwl Group was tasked to provide training under the ‘Plastron’ contract – and the vessels and equipment associated with it – for up to 100 days per year for an initial five year period. As Shane Biggi, the company’s Director of Strategy, phrases it, the cost-saving aspects were immediately obvious. “The personnel cost savings alone are significant. Partisan has a crew of 12 – a naval frigate has a crew in excess of 100. So using Partisan in place of an operational vessel for 100 days a year saves around 10,000 man days per year,” he explains. The overarching intent is to be able to provide assured operational capability to the French navy at lower direct cost.

Fitted with a flight deck, an aviation control room and a close combat module to provide an environment for close quarters shipboard action (hostage rescue operations training springs to mind), the 79m vessel has the capacity for a wide variety of training serials ranging from boarding at sea to naval air operations and special forces mission training. Operational sea training, asymmetric warfare operations and seamanship training all figure in the vessel’s capabilities.

Although contracted to the French Navy, Partisan is a UK-registered vessel, home ported in Aberdeen. With capacity to spare – and an extensive heritage of ship management techniques and capabilities as a result of its association with V.Group – SeaOwl has its sights firmly set on extending its maritime training support facilities to other Navies, with the Royal Navy already taking interest, according to Biggi. Indeed, as MT left the vessel this week, Vice Admiral Sir Philip Jones, KCB, Fleet Commander and Deputy Chief of Naval Staff, was seen to board. This is a space to be watched with interest in coming months.
Tim Mahon

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