After a mere combined 33 years of active service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in support of UK Royal Navy operations around the world, the fast fleet tankers RFA Wave Ruler and RFA Wave Knight remain in extended readiness with their respective futures unknown.  

Joining its sister ship RFA Wave Ruler in extended readiness in 2022, RFA Wave Knight has seen the one-year anniversary of its demotion from the active fleet come and go, with little understanding as to what fate might fall on these logistics workhorses.

According to a 15 May UK parliamentary written response, both vessels are expected to remain in extended readiness “until further notice”.

Vessels placed in extended readiness are de-crewed, with personnel that would be assigned redistributed elsewhere depending on requirements.

Practically, such vessels are able to be reactivated within a relatively short space of time. However, in the case of RFA Wave Knight and Wave Ruler, the latter of which was placed in extended readiness in 2017, it is unlikely that either will re-enter service with the RFA and will instead be sold overseas.

In 2018, it was reported in the Brazilian media that the UK had approached Brazil about a potential sale of the one or both vessels, but nothing further developed. Given how parlous the UK defence budget is given the high levels of inflation in the economy, the UK Ministry of Defence will likely have to explore ‘any and all’ avenues to drum up resources that can be reinvested back into the services.

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With key programmes such as the AUKUS submarines on the horizon, and profitability issues with the Type 31 frigate build, there is clear need for the UK to secure additional revenues through platform sales. Rising defence budgets as a result of the war in Ukraine could increase the prospect of selling secondhand logistics vessels, which are always in high demand, particularly given the relative youth of Wave Knight and Wave Ruler.

However, the UK has had a mixed history when it comes to selling on its old naval vessels, particularly for vessels operated by the RFA. Most recently, the former fleet repair vessel RFA Diligence was taken off the market after the UK was unable to find a buyer. It will now be scrapped.

Refit and repair cost of the RFA fleet

Operating costs of the RFA are another factor to consider how many vessels it can maintain in its fleet while also meeting the requirements placed on it by the Royal Navy. Currently, the service has four Tide-class tankers, one Fort-class replenishment ship, three Bay-class landing platform docks, and a single aviation support platform which also operates as a casualty receiving vessel.

The RFA is also introducing two MROS platforms into its fleet, with one due to being operations in the near term after undergoing military modifications after being taken up from the commercial sector.

From 2010 to 2022, the RFA refit costs from all in-service platforms amounted to £636.1m.

Financial yearRepair costs (including unscheduled repairs in £million)Refit costs (in £million)
Source: UK Hansard

RFA managed vessels are maintained under the Future In-Service Support (FISS) agreement. These contracts were signed in 2018, have a duration of 10 years, are worth approximately £1.1 billion and expected to deliver around £115m of savings, according to a 9 May parliamentary written response.

Prior to the signature of the FISS agreement, RFA managed vessels were managed under a set of five In-Service Support contracts. These contracts were awarded in 2008 and renewed in 2012 for a further five-year period at an additional cost of £349m.